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Experimental, genetically altered mosquito to fight dengue

Sri Lanka will experiment with an imported genetically altered breed of mosquito designed to make female dengue mosquitos sterile.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told newspaper editors today that a sample of the breed has been brought to the country “on an experimental basis.”

Rajapaksa has also instructed all Governors to take immediate measures to arrest the spread of dengue and to urge all health department workers to co-operate in stopping the spread of the disease.

Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) and others tasked with dengue prevention should take the initiative in combatting the disease, he said.

“The people had many expectations in electing me President and one of them was to make the government machinery more efficient. So I ask the public servants to step up and do their jobs properly,” he added.

Meanwhile, the National Dengue Control Unit (NDCU) said that the rise in dengue reports this year is not due to a new strain of the virus but rather an existing but rare strain that wasn’t as widely reported as the more common strains in the previous years.

NDCU Director Dr Anura Jayasekara told RepublicNext that there are four strains of the dengue virus through which a person could get infected – namely, types 1, 2, 3 and 4.

“The highest number of dengue cases reported this year were of the type 3 strain which used to be a rare strain,” he said.

In 2017 and 2018, said Dr Jayasekara, type 2 was the most common cause of dengue fever, while types 1 and 4 had been more common before.

One reason for the increased number of dengue reports this year, Dr Jayasekara further said, was that patients who had already been infected with the other strains of the virus could still be infected by the rarer type 3, as they would only be immune to the strain that had previously infected them.

What this means, he explained, is that a patient could contract dengue a maximum of four types through the four different strains. In Sri Lanka, there are only a handful of patients had been infected by the type strain in previous years, he added.

According to Dr Jayasekera, external symptoms of type 3 are no different from those of other strains. However, the condition of a patient carrying the virus could become serious at a faster rate than usual, and there may be a change in the way this rarer strain affects internal organs.

According to the statistics shared by the Epidemiology Unit, at least 90 deaths from a total of 87,364 dengue cases have been reported so far this year, out of which the most reported is from the Colombo district at 17,849. This is a significant increase in cases in the district, compared to 10,258 cases reported last year.

Other districts with the highest number of cases reported are Gampaha, Kalutara, Kandy, Galle, Jaffna and Rathnapura.

“The highest number of cases this year were reported in November. However, over the first three weeks of December, the number has decreased,” said Dr Jayasekara.

As per statistics, only 2,869 dengue cases have been reported this month so far.

The NDCU Director further said that nearly 1,500 dengue control officers along with Public Health Inspectors have already been deployed for inspection tours to spot potential dengue mosquito breeding grounds in private residences and other buildings. Teams of two officers each have been tasked with inspecting 50 homes a day per team.

Apart from the daily inspections, he said, special inspections have been carried out in high-risk areas or areas in which reports of dengue cases were high, with the aid of the tri-forces and police twice a month since May.

Revisions to the Prevention of Mosquito Breeding Act (2007) are currently under discussion, according to Dr Jayasekara, and a final draft has already been prepared. Increased fines, putting the onus on the general public as well as introducing new laws regarding construction sites are expected under the proposed amendments to the Act.

The NDCU urges the public to immediately get admitted to the nearest hospital or meet the nearest doctor in case of fever. Dr Jayasekara also requests the public to clean up their homes and gardens to prevent further mosquito breeding.

Meanwhile, according to the Government news portal news.lk, 130 dengue patients have been admitted to the hospital today, out of which 20 were school students who were supposed to sit for their GCE Ordinary Level examination this month.

Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) Angoda Director Dr Hasitha Attanayake said that the students have been provided the necessary facilities to sit for their exams while in hospital.

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