Fighting Dengue Fever with Bats and Birds

St. Louis, Missouri

As summer approaches, US communities brace for another round of pesticide spraying. Though it is supposedly done to protect us from mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus (WNV), the spraying actually seems more like military maneuvers designed to persuade the populace to accept chemical warfare as a part of everyday life.

Since the US relies heavily on pesticide poisons and explores genetic engineering to attack mosquitoes carrying WNV, it is fascinating to see a low-tech approach bring even greater success. A program in Vietnam shows that predators can offer an extremely effective technique of mosquito control.

There, researchers and community organizers are teaming up to fight dengue fever, which is carried by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Globally, the dengue virus claims 50 million infections and over 12,000 deaths per year.

In the February 12, 2005 issue of the Lancet, Brian Kay and Vu Sin Nam describe their two-pronged mosquito control program: (1) distribution of a crustacean predator which feeds on mosquito larvae; and (2) community education and involvement in cleaning up containers of stagnant water.

As in most of the world’s poor communities, rural Vietnamese store water near their homes. This, along with various discarded containers, are favorite breeding spots for mosquitoes which carry dengue fever. The major part of the program was putting a tiny crustacean (the cyclopoid copepod Mesocyclops) into drinking water containers. As every student of Mesocyclops knows, these critters get the mosquito munchies when they spy larvae.

The other part of mosquito control was active involvement of the community. The researchers sought support from the chairperson of each participating commune. They then involved the women’s union, youth union, communal health personnel, teachers and school children. Health collaborators inspected 100 homes monthly for clean-up and distributed the mosquito predators.

The program succeeded in eliminating dengue fever in 32 of 37 communes and drastically reducing it in the other 5. This meant protection for 380,000 Vietnamese. Before the program, dengue fever had been as high as 146 cases per 100,000. Surrounding communes which had not been treated continued to have rates up to 112.8 per 100,000.

The cost of the program was $2 per person per year, including administrative and virological surveillance. But the post-program expansion was estimated to cost less than $0.20 per person.

This expense is small compared to the millions spent in the US to spray pesticides by truck and by air. It may be time for US cities to ask if mosquitoes can be controlled without chemicals. Crustaceans in drinking water may not be the best use of predators in the US; but there are several native species that gobble up mosquitoes.

Unfortunately, sprays kill insects, fish, birds and bats that eat mosquitoes at the same time they kill the mosquitoes themselves. Thus, there is no reason to believe that massive spraying actually reduces incidences of WNV.

It is probably no accident that pesticide spraying was not part of the Vietnamese program. Vietnamese still suffer catastrophic numbers of birth deformities and other illnesses from the defoliant Agent Orange sprayed by the US during its war against Southeast Asia. There is strong chemical similarity between herbicides such as Agent Orange and pesticides used for mosquito control.

In the same issue of the Lancet, Simon Hales and Wilbert von Panhuis comment that such programs may not work in western cultures because “community participation will be more difficult to establish and maintain in societies with a strong culture of individualism.”

This could be true. But since few have the opportunity to vote on spraying, we cannot know for sure. Americans just might prefer to have a bug or two on their greens and community health programs that peek into backyard stagnant water instead of running for asthma inhalers every time the pesticide truck goes by. If they were able to vote on spraying, Americans might well decide to take back their air.

DON FITZ is on the National Committee of the Green Party USA and is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought. He can be reached at: Fitzdon@aol.com










More articles by:

Don Fitz (fitzdon@aol.com) is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought, where this analysis was originally published. He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. His articles on politics and the environment have also appeared in Synthesis/Regeneration, Monthly Review andZ Magazineas well as many online publications.Don Fitz writes for theNew York Journal of Bookswhere a brief version of this review appeared.  

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out