Researchers with the World Mosquito Programme are currently working on a breakthrough research that will transform Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that causes dengue fever into a surprisingly powerful ally to save and improve lives.
Apart from dengue, the works published by Gates Notes, the Blog of Bill Gate can also be effective in preventing not only, but also Zika, yellow fever, and other diseases that are transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
The breakthrough relies on a tiny bacterium called Wolbachia, a common and harmless bacterium found in 60 percent of all insects, including fruit flies, bees, moths, and butterflies and also in Aedes aegypti mosquito.
More than a decade ago, researchers made a surprising discovery that Wolbachia,if given to Aedes aegypti blocks the mosquito from transmitting the dengue virus. The bacteria spread rapidly among mosquitoes when they mate, blocking the spread of dengue from one generation of mosquitoes to the next.
When it comes to killing humans, no other animal—not sharks, snakes, or crocodiles—is as deadly as the mosquito.
Dengue fever, a virus spread through bites by the Aedes aegypti mosquito nicknamed “breakbone fever” because of the severe pain it causes, infects about 400 million people every year, killing more than 20,000. Increasing temperatures due to climate change have expanded the geographic spread of the mosquitoes, and increasing the number of dengue cases in recent years.
The initial part of the research was done in a lab setting. The next step, according to the report was to test whether this approach would work in the real world.
The recent experiment by the World Mosquito Program, a non-profit working to stop the spread of dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases in Yogyakarta, Indonesia wants to know if releasing Wolbachia mosquitoes into a community would lead to a reduction in dengue cases.
Gates who wrote of his involvement in the experiment stated that the foundation has been a proud funder of the research.
“In 2014, I visited Yogyakarta to see this work just as it was getting started. I even helped feed some of the Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes!,” he wrote.
As part of a randomized controlled trial, researchers released Wolbachia mosquitoes in parts of Yogyakarta, which has some of the highest rates of dengue fever in the country.
To earn public trust, the researchers collaborated closely with the local community, meeting with thousands of people in the city, addressing their questions and concerns about the program.
In June, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of the trial, which show that the Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes reduced the number of dengue cases by 77 percent and dengue hospitalizations by 86 percent.
Now, the World Mosquito Program is working to expand this effort in other parts of the world where dengue is a threat, including cities in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Australia, and Fiji.
Gates wrote that it is hard to overstate the impact the World Mosquito Program may have on communities at risk of these diseases.
“Every dollar spent on this effort is expected to deliver $4 in economic benefits by saving billions of dollars in health care costs and preventing billions of hours of lost productivity due to illness,” he wrote.