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Friday, July 30, 1999 Published at 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK


Health

Dengue fever breakthrough

Children are particularly at risk from dengue fever

A scientific project taking place in Vietnam may point the way for the worldwide treatment of the potentially fatal dengue fever.

Scientists have cleared the village of Phan Boi of the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

Dengue fever is endemic in 100 countries with as many as 50 million cases each year.

The breakthrough in erasing it has come thanks to a tiny animal, the shrimp-like crustacean mesocyclops.


[ image: The Aedes mosquito carries the fever]
The Aedes mosquito carries the fever
It has a voracious appetite for mosquito larvae, and is generally harmless to humans.

Residents in the village of Phan Boi in Vietnam introduced the crustacean to their domestic water supplies, in an experiment to see whether it could reduce the numbers of the dengue fever carrying Aedes mosquito.

And it succeeded in spectacular fashion.

In just 18 months the mosquito population has been wiped out in the area.

The scientists who supervised the study - run by the Australian Foundation for Peoples of Asia and the Pacific - are now hoping that the mesocyclops can be used to tackle dengue fever elsewhere in the world.

Potential killer

The symptoms of dengue fever are similar to flu and it rarely causes death. However, dengue haemorrhagic fever, first recognised in the 1950s, can be fatal.

Symptoms include a rash and high fever in children and in adults this can be accompanied by headache, pain in the joints, muscles and eyes.

The high fever can produce fits and haemorrhagic shock which can lead to death within 12 hours.

Urban areas in developing countries are the biggest breeding ground due to poor sanitation and population upheaval.

As yet there is no cure or vaccine against the disease and dengue fever experts fear the fever is spreading.

It is still too early to know whether mesocyclops will be as effective against the dengue carrying mosquito elsewhere but the scientists involved in this trial are optimistic.





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