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Airman helps battle virus in Philippines

by Capt. Genieve David
13th Air Force Public Affairs

2/23/2010 - LAOAG, Philippines (AFNS) -- An Airman and representatives from a local health department are on a crusade to combat the Dengue virus in villages here, as part of Operation Pacific Angel Feb. 15 through 22.

Maj. Stephen Wolf, one of only 15 entomologists in the Air Force, and Julie Samson, from the Laoag city department of health have gone into 17 villages and educated a total of 465 residents on methods to combat the spread of this mosquito-borne virus.

"This has been one of the best experiences of my life as we are making a positive impact on peoples' lives," said Major Wolf from Det. 3, U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Kadena Air Base, Japan. "Very seldom do I go to places that have had fatalities where families have lost their loved ones."

Equipped with Dengue prevention literature developed specifically for the Philippines and on-the-spot demonstrations, Major Wolf and translator Ms. Samson explained to the residents the importance of water storage practices to help prevent the prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Ideal conditions for the Dengue mosquito breeding are in man-made objects like pots, jars, metal drums, tires or any other items that can easily collect water.

As part of the disease surveillance, the team deployed several mosquito traps and little black jars to analyze the insect in areas known to have Dengue outbreaks.

"The armed forces of the Philippines is attempting to bridge the gap and create a modern vector surveillance and control capability," said Major Wolf. "Through subject matter expert exchanges like this, we have the ability to share lessons learned and tips for successful entomology programs."

"It's important to establish a field preventative medicine program similar to what the U.S. has in place because most AFP casualties are non-battle injuries, like malaria or dengue," said Col. Bernard Bernardo, chief of Veterinary Corps for the Philippine air force.

Dengue, and a more serious form the disease known as Dengue hemorrhagic fever, kills scores of people and infects thousands every year in the Philippines.

According to the World Health Organization, the female aedes mosquito is capable of transmitting the virus during probing, blood feeding and can also transmit the virus to her offspring through the eggs.

There is no cure or vaccine to protect against Dengue.

"It becomes an emotional type of event, trying to educate the people on Dengue," Colonel Bernardo said. "It becomes a sensitive issue, but I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to team up with the Laoag city health department and the armed forces of the Philippines to try to tackle a very prominent and real issue."

Several other subject matter expert exchanges are scheduled throughout Operation Pacific Angel to include seminars on H1N1, public health, basic life support, and a disaster readiness exchange.

Operation Pacific Angel is a humanitarian and civic assistance program aimed at improving military civic cooperation between the United States and countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

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