ASUNCION – During these days of commemorating the dead, Paraguayan cemeteries have become battlegrounds against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue, Zika and Chikungunya, which they now fight by replacing water with sand in the vases of flowers that visitors leave at the graves of their loved ones.
Members of the National Malaria Eradication Service, or Senepa, have been sent to different cemeteries around the South American country to deliver bags of sand to visitors who during these holidays bring flowers for their dearly departed.
Vases of flowers containing sand but no water provide nowhere for the disease-bearing Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to deposit their eggs.
“At the entrance to the cemeteries we tell people not to put water in flower vases, but to use sand instead, or if not, to bring artificial flowers,” Senepa official Sonia Melgarejo at La Recoleta Cemetery in Asuncion told EFE.
Melgarejo, along with other colleagues, have posted themselves at the entrances to La Recoleta starting this Monday to warn each family member or friend coming to pay tribute to the deceased about the importance of not leaving containers full of stagnant water there.
She is one of many Senepa members trying to make sure that Paraguay will never again suffer a dengue epidemic like the one in 2013, the worst in its history, which took 252 lives.
The Paraguayan Public Health Ministry warned Tuesday that cemeteries are critical places due to the many vases full of stagnant water left there, and which increase in number on the occasion of All Souls Day and All Saints Day.
These dates also coincide with a rise in temperatures with the approach of the Southern Hemisphere summer, the most critical time of the year for diseases spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, Public Health Minister Antonio Barrios warned several weeks ago.
“If it’s hot and it rains, we have a larvae infestation index over 5 percent, which is pretty high, particularly in the classic Asuncion neighborhoods,” Barrios said.
Paraguay has reported 16 deaths from dengue until May of this year, plus 2,467 confirmed cases, along with another 38 officially detected cases of Chikungunya and two of Zika, though the latter two viruses have caused no deaths up to now.