Scientists Looking To Flip Script on Dengue Fever with Deliberately Infected Mosquitoes


Although mosquito-transmitted diseases such as dengue fever rarely affect the contiguous United States, it is much more common in other countries in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

According to the Pan American Health Organization, over 2 million cases of dengue were reported in the Americas in 2019 — nearly triple the two years prior — and while it’s a common illness in more than 100 countries across the world, there are no specific treatments known — prevention is the best protection against it.

A research group, however, is working on an innovative solution to help prevent these devastating arboviruses by raising mosquitoes that carry a specific bacteria, which significantly lowers the insect’s ability to spread them.

The World Mosquito Program has discovered that mosquitoes that carried a naturally-occurring bacteria known as Wolbachia are less likely to spread diseases such as Zika, yellow fever and dengue. It also poses a “negligible risk to humans and the environment,” according to the research group’s website.

WPM was born out of Professor Scott O’Neill’s research on the link between Wolbachia and dengue which began in 1980.

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While Wolbachia is commonly found in many insects, it is not normally found in Aedes aegypti — the species of mosquitoes that spread arboviruses like dengue.

WMP has been introducing the bacteria to Aedes aegypti in a lab in such a way that the bacteria will pass to future generations.

“We don’t see any change in the population size of the mosquitoes. And they still bite us. So, unfortunately, we don’t solve that problem,” Cameron Simmons, with the World Mosquito Program told NPR.

“What we do is solve the problem of those mosquitoes being transmitters of these medically important diseases.”

Through their research, the scientists at WMP hope to significantly decrease the threat of these mosquito-transmitted diseases.

And so far, they are already seeing success.

In a media released obtained by The Western Journal, the organization reported that it has seen a 76 percent reduction in dengue transmission in an Indonesian community after a group of these Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes were released.

It also said it has seen similar results in an area near Rio de Janeiro.

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This new method is not only self-sustaining because future generations of the lab-grown mosquitoes will also carry the bacteria, but it is also cost-effective.

“We are very encouraged by the public health impact we are seeing — it highlights the potential of this approach to fight dengue and related mosquito-borne diseases at a global scale,” Simmons said in the release.

“Evidence is rapidly accumulating that areas where Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes have been deployed have fewer reports of dengue than untreated areas.”

Simmons said the organization is excited about the positive results it has seen thus far and that it has been embraced by communities already.

“Our challenge now is to work with partners and governments to bring the method to 100 million people by 2023,” he said.

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Kayla has been a staff writer for The Western Journal since 2018.
Kayla Kunkel began writing for The Western Journal in 2018.
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