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Aquarium fish help fight dengue epidemic in West Bengal

Since mosquitoes have developed a resistance to pesticides, state health authorities are hoping that fish that eat mosquito larvae will check the breeding rate of the dengue-carriers

Colourful aquarium fish, whose diet includes mosquito larvae, are being used to fight a dengue epidemic that has killed 21 people and affected up to 3,000 more in West Bengal. The authorities are encouraging the use of gambusia fish because mosquitoes have become resistant to many pesticides such as DDT, which are commonly sprayed to kill them.

State health officials have released thousands of gambusia and guppies -- small, brightly-coloured freshwater fish popular in home aquariums -- into ponds, lakes, wells and stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. "Guppies eat mosquito larvae and help check the breeding rate of mosquitoes. These fish are being used successfully to fight dengue," says Prabhakar Chatterjee, West Bengal's medical services chief.

Health volunteers, medical students and voluntary organisations are busy distributing the fish. "Gambusia is a cheap and easily available fish that eats its own weight in mosquito larvae or pupae, daily," says Amiya Hati, an expert on mosquito-borne diseases.

One such disease, dengue, has spread rapidly in the eastern Indian state over the past month; local authorities are struggling to control the spread of the disease which is marked by high fever, headache, rash and nausea, and, if not treated in time, could cause death.

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya finally declared a dengue epidemic in the state in the first week of September, after admitting that the number of cases was "way above normal".

Although 60% of cases have been reported in the state capital Kolkata alone, health authorities deny that the outbreak has reached epidemic proportions in this city of 14.3 million inhabitants. "Dengue detection is being properly carried out in Kolkata, which is why the number of cases seems high. But there is no need to panic. Dengue is completely under control in the city," says the state's urban and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya.

However, the mayor of Kolkata, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, has admitted that 70% of Kolkata has been found to be dengue-prone, adding that the disease had so far claimed seven lives in the city. He added that the Kolkata Municipal Corporation had taken adequate steps to combat both dengue and malaria, while a ward-based map was being prepared to identify areas vulnerable to both diseases.

Source: www.rediff.com, September 14, 2005
PTI, September 13, 2005
Reuters, September 16, 2005