WASHINGTON - Researchers in Australia have shown that introducing a naturally-occurring bacterium in the wild, called Wolbachia, can control mosquitoes that cause Dengue fever.
Wolbachia occurs naturally in 60 percent of all insect species, but not in Aedes aegypti, say experts. That’s the mosquito that spreads dengue. The mosquito species can also transmit Zika virus, yellow fever and Chikagunya, but researchers are focusing on Dengue.
Australian scientists have found a low-cost way to introduce Wolbachia into dengue-causing mosquitoes in the laboratory, stopping the virus from growing inside the mosquito and thus spreading.
Once introduced into the wild, the Wolbachia mosquitoes can breed with other mosquitoes, spreading the protective bacterium. Researchers say the method is self-sustaining, having the potential to fight the life-threatening disease.
Since 2011, the investigators have conducted small-scale, open field trials in dengue-infected communities. Scientists have found that the bacterium interferes with the mosquito’s ability to transmit the virus to people that causes dengue, an illness in tropical and sub-tropical countries responsible for almost 400 million infections every year.
The disease severely sickens 98 million people, according to the World Health Organization, causing severe flu-like symptoms. Severe dengue can cause death, especially in children.
Researchers say the trials in Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil and Colombia are helping to refine their methods of introducing Wolbachia into wild mosquito populations.
In 2014, researchers developed and began a low-cost Wolbachia strategy for urban areas, hoping to begin large-scale trials in 2016.
The work is being carried out by the non-profit Eliminate Dengue Program in collaboration with the Institute of Vector-borne Disease at Monash University in Australia. The program has begun a fund-raising effort to continue its work with Wolbachia as a way to wipe out the threat of dengue.