Sri Lanka to let loose anti-dengue Wolbachia bug as infections surge

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka plans to let loose a bug among the island’s mosquito population that would hopefully make life difficult for the dengue virus, officials said as new cases grew fourfold from last year to reach epidemic proportions in November.

Sri Lanka plans to release especially bred Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, with Wolbachia bacteria in them to the wild early next year. The bacteria inhibits the growth and multiplication of the dengue virus inside the mosquito.

“We will release mosquitos we bred with the bacteria that stops the spreading of the dengue virus” Anura Jayasekera, director of the dengue prevention unit of Sri Lanka’s state health service told reporters in Colombo.

“We have inserted this Wolbachia bacteria in to Aedes aegypti (Dengue carrier Mosquito) eggs. And the mosquitos that we bred does not have the dengue virus within them.”

Jayasekera said the dengue prevention unit will release the specially bred mosquitos to the eco system within the first two weeks of February 2020.

“This project has been successfully implement in many other countries in the world,” said Jayasekara.

“Wolbachia is a natural bacteria that is found in almost 60 percent of the insects in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately the Aedes Mosquito in the wild does not have the bacteria in them naturally.”

“This process will happen as a natural phenomenon.”

After the mosquitoes with the bacteria are released to the wild, their off-spring will also be born with the bug, gradually releasing the ability of the wild population to be an effective host to the dengue virus.

In November 2019 Sri Lanka’s dengue cases soared 400 percent to epidemic levels seen in 2017.

Total recorded cases surged to 21,561 in November 2019 up from 4,537 last year.

In December 12,300 cases have been recorded with the full total yet to come.

Intermittent rains where there is heavy rain and a breaks have helped push up the mosquito population, Jayasekera said.

Sri Lanka has had a dengue epidemic in 2017, when 41,121 patients were recorded in the worst month.

Officials said intermittent rains and dry periods seen in the last few months had helped sharply increase the dengue population.(Colombo/Dec 30/2019)

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