accessibility & help

Mosquito diseases

Mosquitoes can carry diseases. A bite could infect a person with a severe or even life-threatening virus. The World Health Organization is concerned enough about the Zika virus to declare a public health emergency.

Use these resources to deepen young people's understanding of mosquito-borne diseases. 

What education approaches might help to raise awareness of such diseases? What difference does poverty make? And what lessons can an international health emergency have for young people in the UK?

Learning objectives

By the end of this activity young people will be able to:

  • Describe key facts about the Zika virus and the declared public health emergency.
  • Explain what they would personally do to avoid mosquito bites and assess their likely success rate in following official advice.

Photo activity

People stand outside their house while a health ministry worker fumigates to kill mosquitoes during a campaign against dengue and chikungunya and to prevent the entry of Zika virus© Info

What's going on? Show the picture and invite young people's ideas. Why might this family be standing outside. Where are the clouds coming from? The people don't seem worried, and even seem to be enjoying it. 

Discuss where it might be. What news is being reported from that part of the world?

After discussion, explain that the photograph was taken in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua in Central America. The people are waiting outside while their house is fumigated by workers from the health department.

Fumigating means using chemical insecticides in a gas or vapour to try to eradicate pests. Why might a house need fumigating? Discuss, then explain or confirm young people's ideas, that fumigation is designed to kill mosquitoes.

The topic has been widely reported because of the Zika virus, which has been declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization. 

But fumigation has been taking place against the mosquitoes for some time. They spread other illnesses, some severe, even life-threatening, such as dengue.

What is known about the Zika virus?

Use this matching exercise to provide a basic briefing on the Zika virus.

  1. The Zika virus is spread by
  2. The flu-like symptoms caused by the Zika virus
  3. Experts say that there is no specific treatment
  4. Health authorities are concerned about a possible link between the Zika virus
  5. Regions where the Zika virus is known to circulate

  1. and an increase in the number of babies born with small heads (microcephaly).
  2. or vaccine available against the Zika virus.
  3. a mosquito which also spreads other viral infections.
  4. include Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
  5. are usually quite mild and not a serious health problem.

Key: 1c; 2e; 3b; 4a; 5d.

Ask the group to share what they already know about the Zika virus. What more would they like to know? Ask them to suggest further learning questions. How easy do they think finding the answers would be? Where would they begin to search?

Stimulate ideas for questions with a few examples:

  • What is the difference between the Zika virus and the Ebola virus?
  • What are the symptoms of microcephaly?
  • Can Zika be passed from person to person?

Impact for pregnant women

Although the symptoms of the Zika virus are themselves relatively mild, the impact for a pregnant woman who contracts the virus may be life-changing.

Experts are so concerned about possible birth defects, including damage to a foetus's growing brain, that they advise pregnant women not to travel to an area where the Zika virus has been found. If they cannot avoid going, the advice is to follow strict steps to avoid being bitten by a mosquito.

Disease control and prevention

Here is the recommended advice on lowering the risk of being bitten from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Apply an insect repellent effective against mosquitoes to your skin. Reapply regularly according the product directions.
  • Consider wearing clothing pre-treated with repellent.
  • Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long trousers and hats.
  • Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms.
  • Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is exposed to the outdoors.

Think about this advice in small groups. Decide which would be easy to comply with and which might be more difficult. Remember that areas where mosquitoes are tend to be tropical, often very hot and humid.

Discuss how likely you are to forget something, or become too hot and bothered. You may just want to enjoy the sunshine. 

How long do you think you could keep up the protection routine? Try to make an assessment of your likelihood of success. Are you 90 per cent sure you could follow the advice? Or 70 per cent? Or less?

Experts say that the Zika virus, and other more serious mosquito-spread diseases such as dengue or chikungunya, has the biggest impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people. Discuss why. Think about the official advice above, and discuss how poverty might affect communities and families' ability to follow it.

Knowledge is power

The director of health for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Julie Lyn Hall, said: 

“In the battle against Zika, knowledge is power. Empowering communities is essential in reaching and protecting the most vulnerable individuals and households.”

Discuss what this means. How does knowledge help fight against a mosquito-borne disease? How can communities be empowered?

Prompt young people to consider questions such as:

  • what if you don't know where the virus comes from?
  • what if you don't know that mosquitoes breed in any standing water that is left out?

How would you get key educational messages across to communities? 

Who thinks it is better to have people within the communities spreading the messages? Who thinks using public television and radio would be more effective? Why?

Game learning

International health organisations produced a computer game allowing players to work out ways to survive mosquito-borne diseases.

Watch the trailer for Pittsville town

Try to identify the game's key health messages, such as covering water tanks and eating fresh fruit. Who was the game designed for? How helpful are computer games in getting public health messages across? 

The game is subtitled Silent Enemies. Why?

Is there a public health problem in the UK that a computer game would be useful in educating people about? Discuss the contents and presentation of such a game.

What is an emergency?

Normally an emergency is a situation in which normal resources are not sufficient to cope. You need extra help. You might need to do things differently. That's one definition of an emergency.

So why did the media report that the World Health Organization had declared the Zika virus a public health emergency? What additional resources might be required? What might need to be done differently?

The status of emergency will trigger additional funding. That money will be used in three main areas:

  • for research into whether the Zika virus really is responsible for the increase in birth of babies with microcephaly.
  • for an education campaign to help prevent pregnant women becoming infected.
  • for measures to control mosquitoes, to stop the virus spreading.

Ask young people to research online for examples of other declared emergencies. The World Health Organization and IFRC websites could be a good place for them to start. Can they identify why certain events were declared an emergency and what extra resources were drawn on?


This resource was written by PJ White of Alt62 and published in February 2016.