The effort to slow the surging mosquito-borne Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean just enlisted some serious star power: “Sesame Street.”
In a new series of videos, “Sesame Street” stars Elmo and Raya teach children to cover or eliminate standing water and to avoid leaving garbage exposed. They also instruct them about the importance of wearing long sleeves and pants and applying repellent.
“If the mosquito doesn’t bite, goodbye Zika!” the two Muppets say together in the videos, produced in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.
No Zika vaccine exists, so global health officials say the best way to slow transmission of the virus is to prevent bites from the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread the disease and to wipe out potential mosquito breeding sites around homes.
Zika typically isn’t a concern for people who contract the virus, only causing a few days of fever, rash, and head and body aches in a minority of infected people.
But global health officials suspect it increases the risk of serious birth defects when contracted by pregnant women and raises the likelihood of a temporary paralysis called Guillain-Barré syndrome. Plus, with every new human infection, virus-free mosquitoes now have another target from which they can be infected, enabling the disease to persist in communities.
The video series, which was made in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization, is just one way “Sesame Street” is trying to educate children about Zika. On the website for the Latin American version of the show, called “Plaza Sésamo,” a whole page is dedicated to Zika.
“Sesame Street” and its global iterations have launched other public health initiatives over the years. The Nigerian and South African versions of the educational TV program both feature Kami, an HIV-positive Muppet, and the Nigerian version, known as “Sesame Square,” has also addressed malaria.
Raya, the star of the Zika videos, has also pushed to promote hand-washing and sanitary bathroom habits in regions where access to toilets is limited, and resulting diarrheal diseases are common.
And in 2005, as part of a larger effort to promote healthy habits, Cookie Monster walked back his devotion — if a puppet can walk something back — to cookies when he discovered, via song of course, that “a cookie is a sometimes food.” (Fruits and vegetables, we learn, are anytime foods.)