Last month’s report from ABC Australia has described a project in Indonesia showing early signs of success in eradicating one of the world’s most debilitating viruses — dengue fever.
Transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, dengue fever is active in more than 100 countries worldwide, infecting 400 million people every year and killing 25,000. But scientists from the Eliminate Dengue Fever program in Indonesia believe the virus may have met its match. With technology exported from Melbourne’s Monash University, mosquitos in Yogyakarta have been infected with bacteria called Wolbachia, which renders the insects incapable of carrying and transmitting dengue fever. So far the Yogyakarta team has released 6 million Wolbachia infected mosquitos, effectively breeding the disease carrying population out of existence.
Once mosquitoes with Wolbachia are released, they breed with wild mosquitoes. Over time, the majority of mosquitoes carry Wolbachia. These mosquitoes have a reduced ability to transmit viruses to people. Wolbachia naturally occurs in up to 60% of all insect species. However, it is not found in the Aedes Aegypti mosquito “Confident? Of course I’m confident, because the potential of this project is massive,” entomologist Warsito Tantowijoyo said. “In areas where the Wolbachia bacteria have been established, we found that there haven’t been any reported cases of local virus transmission,” Mr Warsito added. “All of the evidence is pointing towards success,” said Professor Cameron Simmons, director of Impact Assessment at the World Mosquito Program.
The most common methods of controlling dengue fever, such as fumigation, are only temporary and vaccines are considered too expensive in developing countries, where the virus is most prevalent. The advantage of the Wolbachia bacteria is that, once established in the mosquito population, it’s a permanent fix. Professor Scott O’Neill, Director, World Mosquito Program with Dr Luciano Moreira, Brazil Program Lead The World Mosquito Program, known locally as Eliminate Dengue Yogyakarta, works with the community to grow and release mosquitoes with Wolbachia. The World Mosquito Program is currently operating in 12 countries around the world – including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, Kiribati, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Mexico.
“The demand is large. We are continually being approached by disease affected countries; our challenge is to keep up with that demand,” said Professor Simmons. The involvement of Thailand, one of the countries most affected by Dengue Fever is not described in the official World Mosquito Program website www. worldmosquitoprogram.org or related sources of information.