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Latino Daily News

Sunday April 3, 2011

The Mosquitos are Back! Using Cell Phones to Combat Dengue

Dengue is getting worse in the Americas. During late 2010 the first dengue case in the United States outside the Texas Mexican Border since 1945 was detected in Key West and the disease has already spread to Miami.

In Peru, health authorities have declared a red alert in the northern Amazon jungle region following the outbreak of a very aggressive dengue strain that has killed more than a dozen people since the beginning of the year and is burdening hospitals and health centers with sick people. The strain, which comes from Brazil has infected more than 13,000 people, and hospitalized more than 1,600 in recent months. The fear now is that the disease may spread to other cities and create a national health emergency.

The recent outbreak is also affecting people in Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Venezuela. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), 1,200 people died from Dengue fever in 2010 in the region.

Information and communication technologies (ICT) tools can be effectively deployed to help control the current dengue outbreak and prevent its spread in the region. Controlling the mosquito vector is the primary option for preventing and controlling dengue outbreaks.

Quickly identifying new infections and mosquito breeding areas is key to control the expansion but this is difficult to do if information is collected inefficiently with no access to fast systems for case detection and data entry, storage and analysis to support opportune fumigation and disease prevention efforts.

Colorado State University in the US has develop a computer-based Dengue Decision Support System (DDSS) that takes advantage broadly used electronic devices, such as laptops, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) or cell phones, to streamlining of data capture, entry and analysis for dengue control.

The cell phone capability of the system is important for developing countries given that, compared to laptops or PDAs, cell phones are less expensive and also eliminate the need for physical means of data transmission via USB flash drives. Use of cell phones exploits existing communications infrastructure and also introduces near real time monitoring and potential for rapid feedback to field data collectors.

Cell phones can also be used to foster preventive measures to control mosquito breeding and exposure. A study by Dammert, Galdo, and Galdo (2010) sponsored by the IDB analyzed the effectiveness of delivering preventive information on dengue through text messaging in the district of Pariñas in Piura, Peru. This study found that households receiving any text message increased the use of mosquito nets, boosted their use of screens on windows, and increased covering standing supplies of water.