There’s hope that the transmission of dengue fever to humans could be reduced by infecting mosquitoes that carry the disease with a specific kind of bacteria.
It’s estimated that each year close to 400 million people are infected with the devastating tropical disease.
At the the Vietnam National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, mosquitoes have been deliberately infected with a bacteria called wolbachia, which appears to prevent them from contracting dengue and therefore from passing it on from one human to another.
“The female mosquitoes that carry wolbachia will pass on the bacteria to the next generations. A male mosquito will be infertile when mating with a uninfected mosquito in the wild. As a result, the wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes will gradually replace the wild population and limit the chance of passing dengue to humans,” says Nguyen Thi Yen, an entomologist at the Vietnam National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology.
Dengue is known as “break bone fever” because of the excruciating joint pain and terrible headaches it causes. There is no vaccine, cure or treatment. It’s caused by one bite from a female mosquito that transmits the virus from an infected human to another.
The idea is to prevent the insects getting infected with dengue in the first place.
Scientists here are releasing the insects in defined, isolated spaces before potentially expanding to Nha Trang city and beyond.
“We’re quite excited about what this technology might mean for a dengue endemic country like Vietnam. We hope in that in the future, the field trials are successful enough that we can move to a larger or broader-scale implementation where we could cover the whole city with wolbachia mosquitoes,” says Simon Kutcher, project manager at Eliminate Dengue Vietnam.
Scientists still need to work on the actual implementation of the so-called wolbachia method but it’s hoped that if successful it could potentially be used on other insect-transmitted diseases such as the chikungunya, yellow fever or even malaria.