Preventative Measures Essential in the Battle Against Dengue

By Whitney Kvasager
December 1, 2005

Tram kak district, Takeo province - Dengue fever makes you hot, then cold and tired, said 11-year-old Saon Srey Phom, shielding her eyes from Saturday’s early-morning sun.

You start to feel better, but soon you’re exhausted and feverish again.

She said she was sick for about two weeks when she caught the fever last year, recovering only after spending another two weeks at a private clinic.

The hospital bills cost her parents $25; hardship for the family increased when her 7-year-old brother came down with the same illness.

It was a serious setback for the family, which survives on about $0.75 each day. And missing a month of school was a setback for Saon Srey Phom, who is dedicated to her studies.

“I want to learn social science,” she said, brightening and breaking into a shy smile as she described her dreams of the future.

“I want to be a teacher, because the job helps the younger generation to improve.”

Attempting to prevent such cases of dengue—one of the most prevalent mosquito-borne illnesses in this village—Ministry of Health officials on Saturday morning gave chemically-treated mosquito nets to Saon Srey Phom and her classmates at The Tith Mom School in Trapaing Chak village’s Tram Kak commune.

The 150 nets were handed out as part of The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign.

Dengue fever, also known as break-bone fever, has sickened at least 4,300 children in Cambodia so far this year, according to Ministry of Health statistics.

Sixty-eight of those children have died of dengue hemorrhagic fever—the illness’ lethal form, which involves painful fever and in some cases hemorrhaging of the brain and gastrointestinal system, and hemorrhagic shock.

No anti-viral treatment or vaccine exists for dengue, which makes preventative measures crucial.

Health experts recommend sleeping under mosquito nets and emptying outdoor water containers, which can become breeding grounds for the black- and white-striped mosquito that spreads the disease.

At the schoolhouse Saturday, students sat in neat lines listening as Duong Socheat, adviser to the Ministry of Health, explained those points—grave topics for the students, among whom at least 10 have suffered from dengue over the last three months, said the school’s Director, Chev Pros.

“Who knows how to prevent malaria?” Duong Socheat asked as hands shot upward.

“Who knows how to be sanitary?”  Saon Srey Phom, sitting in the back row answered: Drink clean water, keep your environment clean, sleep under a mosquito net.

Duong Socheat gave her 500 riel for her correct answer before launching into instructions on how to use the nets and imploring students not to use them to catch fish.