Malaria Strikes in Haiti; Dengue in Puerto Rico3 min read
The US military announced on February 27 that 6 soldiers involved in the Haiti earthquake relief have been diagnosed with malaria. One day later, health authorities declared a dengue fever epidemic in Puerto Rico, which reported 210 cases in January. These news stories are a reminder that relief workers and tourists in the Caribbean face dangerous threats. Serving in Haiti can be very rewarding, but there are significant health and security risks which must be considered before jumping on the volunteer bandwagon. An increase in the incidence of malaria and other infectious diseases already endemic in Haiti has been widely expected since relief efforts began almost seven weeks ago. Although the greatest risk is among the weak and those in poor health living in the streets or in severely cramped quarters, healthy volunteers are also susceptible. Even before the earthquake hit, Haiti was considered by the World Health Organization as a “high risk” country for becoming infected with the malaria parasite and was ranked 34th in the Maplecroft Malaria Risk Index. “Overcrowding in the camps for the displaced, inadequate shelter and sanitation, overburdened medical facilities, ruptured sewer systems — all these factors provide favorable conditions for the breeding of malaria vectors,” said Fiona Place, a British researcher specializing in disease risk analysis. The CDC
has published “Guidance for Relief Workers and Others Traveling to Haiti for Earthquake Response” for anyone intending to assist in the relief effort. Take the proper precautions or risk becoming a victim yourself Dengue fever, a viral illness with symptoms of fever, muscle aches, headache and occasionally a faint rash on the trunk and back, is relatively new to Puerto Rico but common in Haiti. There is no vaccination or treatment. Since the disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, the same precautions taken to prevent malaria will help to avoid infection with the Dengue virus. Bug sprays that contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus are effective.