Indonesian scientists create ‘antidengue mosquitoes’ to eradicate the disease

These are mosquitoes infected with the bacterium Wolbachia, which reduces the replicability of the virus

The number of cases detected in Yogkarta after releasing these mosquitoes decreased by 77%

The method has “exciting potential” for other diseases such as Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.

Dengue is a disease that causes severe pain in muscles and bones and is estimated to affect about 400 million people each year. It is common in tropical areas, as it is transmitted by mosquitoes. But what if you could combat this ailment with your own weapons? This is what a novel trial has carried out, creating ‘antidengue mosquitoes’ those who are injected with a bacteria that reduces the ability of the insect to spread the virus.

The trial, conducted by the Tahija foundation and Gadjah Mada University, was carried out in the city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and is being expanded in the hope of eradicating dengue. In this pilot test the number of cases detected in the sample of participants decreased by 77%.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

The trial used mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria. One of the researchers on the trial, Dr. Katie Anders, describes it as “naturally miraculous.” The bacteria do not harm the mosquito, but “camp” in the same parts of its body where the dengue virus needs to enter.

For the test, five million infected mosquito eggs were used with Wolbachia, scattered across Yogkarta. The city was divided into 24 zones and insects were released in only half of them. The eggs were placed in buckets of water around the city every two weeks; then they hatched and mosquitoes spread throughout the city. The process of creating an “infected” population took nine months.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed a reduction of dengue cases in the city of 77%. The number of people who needed hospital care decreased by 86% with these ‘antidengue mosquitoes’. Dr Yudiria Amelia, Head of Disease Prevention in Yogyakarta City, says: “We are delighted with the outcome of this trial.”

“It’s very exciting, it’s better than we could have hoped to be honest,” Anders told the BBC. The technique has been so successful that new mosquitoes have recently been released throughout the city and the project is moving to surrounding areas.

“We believe it can have an even greater impact when implemented on a large scale in the world’s big cities, where dengue is a major public health problem.” Few people had heard of dengue 50 years agoBut it has been a slow and relentless pandemic in the last century. In 1970, only nine countries had serious outbreaks; now there are up to 400 million infections a year.

Future potential

In addition to the “immediate” effect of the Wolbachia bacteria, these organisms are also especially long-term manipulative. Once introduced into an animal population, they can alter its fertility, thereby continuing to “protect” the next generation of mosquitoes against dengue infection. This is an important discovery, since the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue is not usually naturally infected with Wolbachia.

This “passive” form of control is in stark contrast to other control methods, such as insecticides or the release of large numbers of sterile male mosquitoes, which must be resumed each year. David Hamer, professor of medicine and global health at Boston University, notes that the method has “exciting potential” for other diseases such as Zika, yellow fever, and chikungunya, which are also transmitted by mosquito bites.

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