Brazil and Colom­bia to scale up fight against Zika and dengue Large-scale mos­quito-con­trol cam­paigns

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Health au­thor­i­ties in Colom­bia and Brazil will launch large-scale mos­quito-con­trol cam­paigns us­ing a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring bac­te­ria known as Wol­bachia to fight the spread of dengue and Zika viruses among peo­ple.

Small-scale tri­als of the tech­nique, which in­volves in­fect­ing mos­qui­toes with Wol­bachia to pre­vent them from spread­ing the viruses, have shown a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in their abil­ity to trans­mit Zika and dengue, prompt­ing donors to back scale-up plans.

“The use of Wol­bachia is a po­ten­tial ground­break­ing sus­tain­able so­lu­tion to re­duce the im­pact of these out­breaks around the globe and par­tic­u­larly on the world’s poor­est peo­ple,” said Bri­tain’s in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment sec­re­tary Priti Pa­tel as the larger project was an­nounced in Lon­don.

Funded with $18 mil­lion

The con­trol cam­paigns, sched­uled to be­gin early next year in Colom­bia’s An­tio­quia and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, will be funded with $18 mil­lion from the Bri­tish and United States gov­ern­ments, the Wel­come Trust global health char­ity and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion.

Zika has been linked to the birth de­fect mi­cro­cephaly, char­ac­ter­ized by an ab­nor­mally small head, that has been sweep­ing through South and Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean and mak­ing its way north to the United States.

In Fe­bru­ary, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion de­clared Zika a global health emer­gency. The con­nec­tion be­tween Zika and mi­cro­cephaly came to light last year in Brazil.

Brazil has now con­firmed more than 1,800 cases of ba­bies with mi­cro­cephaly that it con­sid­ers are linked to Zika in­fec­tions in the moth­ers. The Wol­bachia bac­te­ria is oc­curs nat­u­rally in many in­sect species world­wide, and re­search has shown that it can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the ca­pac­ity of mos­qui­toes to trans­mit viruses to hu­mans. But it doesn’t oc­cur nat­u­rally in Aedes ae­gypti, the mos­quito species largely re­spon­si­ble for trans­mit­ting a range of dis­eases in­clud­ing Zika, dengue, chikun­gunya and yel­low fever.

Over the past decade, in­ter­na­tional re­searchers work­ing with the Aus­tralian-led non-profit Elim­i­nate Dengue Pro­gram (EDP) have found a way to trans­fer Wol­bachia into Aedes ae­gypti mos­qui­toes and get them to pass it on to their off­spring.

When mos­qui­toes with Wol­bachia are re­leased into an area, they breed with lo­cal mos­qui­toes and pass the bac­te­ria on to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Within a few months, the ma­jor­ity of mos­qui­toes carry Wol­bachia and the ef­fect is then self-sus­tain­ing.

Since 2011, field tri­als us­ing this method have been car­ried out in five coun­tries and show that when a high pro­por­tion of mos­qui­toes in an area carry Wol­bachia, lo­cal trans­mis­sion of viruses is halted.

Trevor Mun­del, head of the Gates Foun­da­tion’s global health divi­sion, said he hoped the large-scale cam­paigns had the po­ten­tial to show Wol­bachia as a “revo­lu­tion­ary form of pro­tec­tion against mos­quito-borne dis­ease”.

“It’s af­ford­able, sus­tain­able, and ap­pears to pro­vide pro­tec­tion against Zika, dengue, and a host of other viruses,” he said in a state­ment. “We’re ea­ger to study its im­pact and how it can help coun­tries.” —Reuters

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