- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2008

RANGOON, Burma (AP) | The United Nations plans to launch a massive anti-dengue campaign this week in cyclone-hit areas of Burma where mosquitoes that carry the disease have become a major concern, an official said Monday.

More than 1,700 volunteers will fan out across 22 priority areas in Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city, and the harder-hit Irrawaddy Delta treating stagnant water with chemicals that will kill larva in places mosquitoes are likely to breed, said Leonard Ortega, the World Health Organization’s dengue expert in Rangoon.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF are handling the operation with local aid groups. Known as the “bone-breaker disease,” dengue causes rashes, blistering headaches, nausea and excruciating joint aches.

“It is a major concern not just because this is dengue season, but because of the displacement of the population, the destruction of houses and because people are more exposed to mosquitoes,” Mr. Ortega said.

The U.N. estimates a total of 2.4 million people were affected by the May 2-3 cyclone and warns that more than 1 million of those still need help, mostly in hard-to-reach spots in the Irrawaddy Delta. The cyclone killed more than 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.

“We fear that there will be more cases this year,” Mr. Ortega said.

So far this year, the number of cases is roughly in line with previous years, Mr. Ortega said. There were 781 cases of dengue fever reported in Rangoon as of June 10, and 481 cases reported in the delta through the end of May.

No outbreaks of any disease have been reported since the cyclone hit, but there have been about 685 cases of pneumonia or other severe respiratory diseases reported, along with more than 115 cases of bloody diarrhea, said Eric Laroche, WHO’s point man in Geneva on emergencies, who is working on the Burmese crisis.

A few measles cases have been found, but Mr. Laroche said a massive immunization campaign should help to prevent outbreaks. Several million children will be vaccinated in Rangoon and in the delta.

With the rainy season starting, he emphasized the need to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. So far, only 1.5 tons of mosquito-killing chemicals have arrived in Burma, officially called Myanmar, with another 5 tons waiting to be delivered from Bangkok in neighboring Thailand, he said. The remainder is in the process of being bought.

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