File photo: Mosquito means "little fly" in Spanish. The mosquito is the world's most dangerous animal, because of the diseases it transmits.

Castries, St. Lucia–The Ministry of Health has declared a dengue fever outbreak.

Over the last few weeks, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has continued to provide updates to the public on the significant increases in trends of dengue viral infection.

These increasing trends now constitute an outbreak.

This means the numbers currently being reported exceed the numbers expected, and as such this warrants an immediate and targeted response. However, there is no treatment or vaccine for dengue fever, so action focuses mostly on eliminating mosquitos.

The public health impact of managing a dengue outbreak combined with adjusting to the new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic will place a strain on the already stretched healthcare services.

The direct economic cost of treatment, hospitalization and prevention, as well as the indirect costs such as loss of productivity related to absences, disability or death and the effects on tourism is of concern to an already fragile economy.

Dengue fever is one of the most prevalent arboviral infections worldwide. It is mosquito-borne, which means that it is transmitted by a mosquito—usually the female Aedes egypti and to a lesser extent the Aedes albopictus.

These are the same mosquitoes that are responsible for transmitting chikungunya, yellow fever and zika. The mosquito lives in urban habitats and breeds mostly in manmade containers. It is a daytime feeder, with its peak biting periods in the early mornings, and on evenings before sunset.

Dengue is widespread throughout the tropics with local variations of risk influenced by rainfall, temperature, humidity and unplanned rapid urbanization. Dengue is also endemic to Saint Lucia which means that there is continued local transmission throughout the year.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine for dengue virus infection. Dengue fever cannot be transmitted from one person to another and requires the presence of the mosquito.

Prevention and control therefore involves elimination of the mosquito.

However there may be some help on the way not too far in the future.

Some time in 2021 the Florida Keys will be the scene of the first test in the United States with genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, an alternative to insecticides and larvicides to end the transmission of diseases such as dengue, zika and yellow fever that has always been surrounded by controversy.

“The more weapons we have against the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, the better,” Stanley Zuba, a pediatrician and vice president of the Keys Mosquito Control Board, told Efe.

He has just authorized the biotechnology company Oxitec to test its mosquitoes “OX5034” after nearly ten years of back and forth.

Previously, Florida state authorities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the green light to the pilot test with the commercially named “Oxitec’s friendly mosquito, OX5034”. According to a study by EPA technicians, Oxitec’s mosquito “poses no risk to human health or the environment, including protected species.”

So far, all we know from the test is that in 2021, somewhere in the Keys that has not yet been determined, Oxitec will place boxes with millions of genetically modified male Aedes aegypti eggs millions of mosquitoes will emerge and mix with the local population of their species.

These genetically modified mosquitos should produce baby mosquitos that no longer have the ability to transmit dengue fever.

No doubt authorities in St. Lucia will be following the results of the trial with interest.

Considered the world’s deadliest animal, mosquitoes spread a plethora of diseases, including Zika virus, dengue fever, yellow fever and West Nile virus.