Dengue, a mosquito-borne disease, has become a major concern for many, especially given that it can turn into a life-threatening disease if left untreated for long. The dengue virus has claimed a number of lives, even this year. While there is no cure for dengue fever, preventing mosquito bites is the best way to avoid the dengue infection.
Now, scientists have raised hopes to ‘defeat dengue fever’ and they hope to do so by infecting mosquitoes with bacteria that prevents them carrying the virus. The breakthrough claim comes from scientists from The World Mosquito Program (WMP).
To do this, the researchers exposed male and female mosquitoes to the bacteria Wolbachia, before releasing the insects into the wild. The mosquitoes bred and produced offspring that also carried Wolbachia, disease-resistant bacteria, which made it more difficult for the insects to spread the dengue virus.
While the approach was first trialed in North America, it is now being tested in nine countries around the world. In fact, Vietnam has seen a ‘remarkable reduction’ in such cases, with rates of the infection being down by up to 86 per cent, as around half-a-million of these Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes were released in Vinh Luong, a dengue-prone district in southern Vietnam.
Nguyen Binh Nguyen, project coordinator for WMP in Nha Trang, said, “We have seen a remarkable reduction of dengue cases after the release.”
This comes at a time when dengue outbreak is spreading worries across Southeast Asia. Dengue fever is usually mild, with symptoms including fever, a severe headache and pain behind the eyes. In fact, elderly patients, or those with other medical conditions, may develop severe dengue fever.
The Aedes aegypti is the main mosquito that spreads dengue, along with yellow fever and Zika. Aedes aegypti thrives in tropical climates and breeds in stagnant pools of water.
Talking about Wolbachia, the bacteria occurs naturally in around 60 per cent of all insects species, including dragon flies, fruit flies and moths. It was discovered by scientists in the 1920s when the bacteria were found in mosquitoes living in the drainage system beneath Harvard University.
The discovery of Wolbachia came under highlight in the 1970s, when researchers realised the bacteria could prevent the spread of disease. Thereafter, the scientists conducted numerous experiments with Wolbachia-laden mosquitoes with varied success.