Mosquitoes against dengue? Researchers try an intriguing strategy

Sept. 29, 2014

As many as 100 million people in the tropical regions of the world are infected with the dengue virus each year, and the debilitating and incurable, though rarely fatal, disease is spread by mosquitoes. Earlier this month, scientists in Brazil initiated a strategy aimed at defeating dengue: they released into the local environment thousands of mosquitoes that had been infected with a bacterium that blocks the transmission of the virus.

Scientists from the Fiocruz Research Institute plan to introduce many more mosquitoes that harbor the Wolbachia bacterium over the next four months. The bacterium, which is harmless to humans, spreads quickly through the mosquito population and can keep the insects themselves from being infected with dengue, thus preventing its being transmitted to humans through bites. The strategy is part of a global effort; it has been tried in Southeast Asia and Australia as well. Researchers and public health officials hope that the Wolbachiabacterium will be passed from generation to generation of mosquitoes, and that the dengue-resistant insects will eventually constitute the majority of the mosquito population, thus greatly reducing mosquito-to-human dengue transmission. It is a vital effort; more than three million cases of dengue have been reported in Brazil during the last five years.

The effort is taking place at a time when several cases of locally acquired dengue have been confirmed in the Miami, Florida, area. In 2013 nearly two dozen cases were confirmed in the Sunshine State. Learn more about the Eliminate Dengue program, one of the leading sponsors of the current effort.

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