World Health Day: Small Bites and Big Threats

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Today is World Health Day, which is celebrated on April 7 of each year to mark the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948 and to encourage individuals to engage in activities that can lead to better health.

The topic for World Health Day 2014 is vector-borne disease. What are vectors and vector-borne diseases? WHO defines vectors as “organisms that transmit pathogens and parasites from one infected person (or animal) to another. Vector-borne diseases are illnesses caused by these pathogens and parasites in human populations.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Think mosquitoes, ticks, sandflies. Think West Nile and malaria.

In fact, malaria is the most deadly vector-borne disease, causing 660,000 deaths in 2010. Globalization, along with environmental changes like climate change, is impacting the transmissions of these diseases, causing them to appear in previously unaffected areas. Currently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vector-borne diseases account for an estimated 17 percent of the global burden of all infectious diseases.

Through the campaign WHO aims for the following:

Families living in areas where diseases are transmitted by vectors know how to protect themselves
Travelers know how to protect themselves from vectors and vector-borne diseases when travelling to countries where these pose a health threat
In countries where vector-borne diseases are a public health problem, ministries of health put in place measures to improve the protection of their populations
In countries where vector-borne diseases are an emerging threat, health authorities work with environmental and relevant authorities locally and in neighboring countries to improve integrated surveillance of vectors and to take measures to prevent their proliferation

Pan American Health Organization outlines how you can protect yourself and your environment from vector-borne diseases:

Wear clothing that acts as a barrier to exposure to bites
Use mechanisms to keep vectors out of houses such as screens on doors, windows and eaves
Reduce breeding sites near houses or in communities by:

covering water storage containers
eliminating puddles and drainage of places where water accumulates
eliminating unusable containers where water pools
controlling garbage in yards and gardens

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