Mos­quito Tri­als Raise Hopes for Anti-Dengue Cure

Fiji Sun - - Asia News -

Hun­dreds dead in the Philip­pines; a three­fold in­crease of cases in Viet­nam; hos­pi­tals over­run in Malaysia, Myan­mar and Cam­bo­dia—dengue is rav­aging South­east Asia this year due in part to ris­ing tem­per­a­tures and low immunity to new strains.

But one group of sci­en­tists is rolling out tri­als to breed dengue-re­sis­tant bugs in a bid to tackle one of the world’s lead­ing mos­quito-borne ill­nesses, rais­ing hopes the un­treat­able dis­ease can fi­nally be beaten. The World Mos­quito Pro­gramme

has pi­o­neered a method where male and fe­male Aedes Ae­gypti mos­qui­toes are in­fected with the dis­easere­sis­tant bac­te­ria called Wol­bachia be­fore be­ing re­leased into the wild. In a mat­ter of weeks, baby mos­qui­toes are born car­ry­ing Wol­bachia, which acts as a dis­ease buf­fer for the bugs—mak­ing it harder for them to pass on not only dengue but Zika, chikun­gunya and yel­low fever.

First tri­alled in north­ern Aus­tralia, it’s been tested in nine coun­tries around the globe, in­clud­ing in Viet­nam where early re­sults are promis­ing.

“We have seen a re­mark­able re­duc­tion of dengue cases af­ter the re­lease,” ex­plained Nguyen Binh Nguyen, project co-or­di­na­tor for WMP in Nha Trang.

His team set free around half a mil­lion Wol­bachia-in­fected mos­qui­toes last year in Vinh Luong, a crowded dengue-prone dis­trict in south­ern Viet­nam. Since the tri­als, dengue cases are down 86 per cent in Vinh Luong com­pared to nearby re­sort town Nha Trang.

That’s a ma­jor re­lief for Cong Thi Thu, an ac­coun­tant who along with her two chil­dren suf­fered an intense bout of dengue in 2016, floor­ing the fam­ily for weeks.

She wor­ries less af­ter the tri­als but still makes her kids sleep un­der nets and no longer leaves stag­nant wa­ter to col­lect in the pots around her gar­den, which of­fer ideal breed­ing grounds for mos­qui­toes.

No immunity

To­day, mos­qui­toes still buzz about in the open-air shops, cafes and homes of Vinh Luong, but the ma­jor­ity in the test ar­eas now carry Wol­bachia com­pared to none be­fore the tri­als, WMP said. Con­vinc­ing wary res­i­dents like Thu, along with health of­fi­cials and ethics boards, that the mos­qui­toes won’t make them sick was not an easy task.

Res­i­dents have long suscribed to the of­fi­cial motto “no mos­qui­toes, no lar­vae, no dengue” to avoid the virus, dubbed “break­bone fever” be­cause of its se­vere flu-like symp­toms.

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