Mena Crew contracted dengue fever in 2014. Her husband Ron has suffered three bouts in his life – each one worse than the last. This is why they helped the World Mosquito Program stop dengue in Cairns and surrounds.
Ron got his first bout of dengue in 1971 in Papua New Guinea – it was ‘like the flu’. His second bout in 2009, 31 years after he and his wife Mena had moved to Cairns, was ‘like a really bad dose of the flu’. The third time Ron contracted dengue fever was in 2014 and it was unbelievably bad. Pain, fever, aches in the head and the eyes, skin peeling off, hair falling out, loss of appetite, diarrhoea.
“I wouldn’t wish dengue fever on my worst enemy,” says Ron Crew. “I could have died 6 days in – I could taste blood and they told me I’d need to get to hospital quickly if I started bleeding from the mouth.”
Dengue was a severe problem in Cairns at the time and at least 900 people contracted the disease over the summer, including Mena Crew, who was volunteering with Rotary to help with the citizenship ceremony at Paramatta Park when she felt first symptoms. Mena was so unwell she had to leave the park to rest, despite a good 9 hours of sleep the night before.
“My symptoms included extreme fatigue. I had some muscle aches and pains, but not severe. My legs turned red like lipstick palms, my skin peeled all over my body and my hair changed completely. We both lost weight – Ron more than me – and slept 20 hours a day for weeks. We were very lucky to be supported by friends.”
A scientific study of the outcomes of the World Mosquito Program has found that the long-lasting Wolbachia method has stopped dengue transmission in Cairns and surrounding locations. These releases of Wolbachia mosquitoes, undertaken up to 8 years ago, have reduced dengue transmission, with a 93 per cent reduction in reported dengue cases. This follows the success of the World Mosquito Program method in Townsville.
This means that the Crews can keep being keen and involved community members after 41 years of living in Cairns, raising their family and running their own air-conditioning business. In fact, they first heard about the World Mosquito Program (then Eliminate Dengue) listening to a Rotary dinner speaker.
They readily agreed to host a trap and later release Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos from eggs raised in their backyard. Over the years, they’ve organised meetings, formed committees with local residents, and hit the streets to talk to people about the Wolbachia method throughout Cairns and up to Townsville.
“It’s been amazing that the community has adopted the program and allowed the World Mosquito Program to come into their homes with traps and buckets. Everyone’s accepted that the program is a good thing, that it works and that one day we might be free from dengue forever,” says Ron.
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