Facing a dengue outbreak, the government of Sri Lanka is trying to get rid of its water puddles. Authorities in the country warned that they would jail and fine the citizens in the capital Colombo and surrounding areas who fail to clean up pools of standing water within the next two weeks, the BBC reported Tuesday.
The measure -– which carries a six-month jail sentence and/or a fine of up to $220 — aims to combat the spread of dengue fever, which is carried by mosquitoes that breed in puddles and stagnant water. The tropical disease has killed more than 160 people so far in 2009, double the number at this time last year.
Infected people rapidly develop flu-like symptoms, characterized by a high fever, rash, severe headache, muscle ache and joint pain so severe that dengue fever has become known as “breakbone fever.”
Dr. Sankalpa Marasinghe, a Sri Lankan medical official, warned that a “very high” mortality rate in relation to the infection rate requires direct government intervention, especially as mosquitoes are able to breed almost anywhere water is pooled.
“The majority of mosquito breeding occurs in as little as 5 millimeters of water–such as in plant pots,” he said.
Removal of water pools is only the first step in what the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka calls the “many-pronged battle against dengue.” The Health Ministry is bringing in two experts from Cuba for help in unleashing the biological agent Bacillus thuringiensis sub-species israelensis (BTI) that kills mosquito larvae but is not harmful to humans.
But BTI has significant drawbacks as well. It must remain at the surface of still water — where larvae are suspended — for larvae to feed on and die. The bacterium also needs to be re-applied every week, because it sinks after a few days. In addition, Sri Lankan officials face an uphill communications battle convincing millions of people to sprinkle BTI into the puddles, vases and outdoor baths around their homes.
Ultimately, efforts like BTI pest control will, experts say, only alleviate the effects of a current dengue crisis and will not prevent a new one from breaking out in the future.
“It is impossible to spray the bacteria at all places in Sri Lanka because there are many tiny places such as parts of trees where fresh water gets collected,” said Nimal Siripala de Silva , Sri Lanka’s Healthcare and Nutrition Minister. “The public need to be vigilant and destroy all mosquito breeding sites.”