Dengue who? Dengue is another virus wreaking havoc across the tropics but it isn’t grabbing headlines in the same way that malaria and Zika do. Yet it might be the key to bringing mosquito-borne diseases under control.
Symptoms of dengue infection include fever, headaches and vomiting and can in extreme cases develop in fatal dengue haemorrhagic fever. Dengue fever affects an estimated 100 million people worldwide each year, yet it isn’t nearly as well publicised as other diseases, possibly due to a limited effect on Western communities.
However, research into dengue might help us hit the jackpot in the hunt for ways to bring Zika under control. Both viruses are transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Researchers have infected this mosquito with a species of bacteria called Wolbachia, and it is this which may hold the key to defeating dengue, Zika and the like.
Wolbachia is a symbiont, which means it will not cause disease to its insect host, allowing it to survive on infection. When introduced into the mosquito, Wolbachia reduces its ability to transmit dengue virus.
A project has launched in Australia to harness this effect of Wolbachia. Called ‘Eliminate Dengue’, the programme involves releasing mosquitos that contain Wolbachia to spread the symbiont with the aim of reducing disease spread.
What makes this project brilliant is the involvement of the communities affected by the virus. So called ‘mozzie boxes’ are distributed to willing residents of Cairns and Townsville, who only need to add water and food to the mosquito eggs and wait for them to hatch in a cool, shaded place. Even school children are getting involved. These ‘Wolbachia Warriors’ are also growing Wolbachia-infected mosquitos.
So what about Zika? As they are transmitted by the same species of mosquito, there‘s no reason why this technique can’t be applied to Zika. The Eliminate Dengue programme is now being rolled out across more densely populated areas like Indonesia, but all initial signs are promising. So it could be goodbye Zika soon if Wolbachia comes up trumps.
For more information, visit eliminatedengue.com. Images courtesy of Eliminate Dengue.