Dengue epidemic on the rise in Sri Lanka

(ORDO NEWS) — In Sri Lanka, against the backdrop of a dire situation with food and fuel, an outbreak of dengue fever is growing. More than 41 thousand cases have already been registered.

Everything is complicated by the fact that it is extremely difficult for doctors to work – there is no gasoline to leave the patient, there is no electricity for the operation of sequencers. Doctors are trying to stop the epidemic, but their power is not unlimited.

An outbreak of dengue fever has been added to all the troubles in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is in a state of crisis. The country is heavily indebted, inflation is high, the government does not have enough money to import fuel, which exacerbates food shortages.

A week ago, protesters broke into the official residence of President Gotabai Rajapaksa, demanding his immediate resignation. And he fled the country.

According to the World Food Program, more than six million Sri Lankans – three out of every ten families – do not know if they will be able to eat next time. And after several waves of COVID-19, Sri Lanka is now experiencing a massive dengue outbreak.

How the epidemic develops

Dengue epidemic on the rise in Sri Lanka 2
Aedes aegypti mosquito – vector of dengue drinks human blood

Nilika Malawij is an immunologist at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in Colombo who has been studying dengue fever for over a decade. She told Nature about the situation in Sri Lanka.

“There are already about 41,000 confirmed cases of dengue this year, more than the number of cases in all of last year.

Most people with dengue have a mild illness, but about 15% of people admitted to hospital develop dengue hemorrhagic fever, which causes severe bleeding and can be fatal.

It’s impossible to predict in the early stages of an infection whether someone will develop a severe form of dengue, meaning people must visit the hospital daily for blood tests to catch signs as early as possible. This is a huge burden on the healthcare system.

We’re trying to identify biomarkers that can help determine if someone will develop severe dengue. In addition, my lab is looking for drugs that could be repurposed to treat dengue fever, for which there is no safe and effective vaccine.

Power outages and shortages of fuel for backup power generators mean we can’t use equipment like our Illumina genome sequencing machine, which needs to run continuously 24 hours a day. Instead, we rely on a nanopore sequencing device that can run on a powerful battery.

Sequencing it with is easier and cheaper, gives better coverage, but has somewhat lower accuracy scores. We were able to sequence several samples of SARS-CoV-2 last week as the number of cases started to slowly rise again this month.”

The doctors are doing their best. There is no gasoline – they go to the sick on bicycles. But their powers are not unlimited.

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