Beating Dengue: Mosquitoes with a Twist

Beating Dengue. So, scientists are stepping up their game against that nasty dengue fever, and they’ve got this cool idea – infecting lady mosquitoes with something called Wolbachia bacteria. The World Mosquito Program (WMP) is all about “treating” mosquitoes with this bacteria that stops those virus parties inside them.

You know those female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes? The troublemakers spreading dengue through their bites? Yeah, they love tropical and subtropical places. They started out in West African forests, tagging along during the whole slave trade thing, and have been third-wheeling with humans ever since.

Other Aedes mosquitoes also dabble in dengue transmission. The Asian tiger mosquito is like the party crasher causing dengue trouble in Europe.

Stopping Dengue with Bacteria

Dr. Clare Strode, a bug expert from Edge Hill University, spills the beans on WMP’s plan. They’ve come up with a way to control dengue without chemicals or genetic tinkering, using Wolbachia bacteria. It’s found naturally in lots of bugs but not in Aedes aegypti.

WMP found that infecting these mosquitoes with Wolbachia stops the dengue virus from growing in the adult females. And get this – it’s self-sustaining. Wolbachia gets passed down to the eggs during mosquito mating, spreading like wildfire through the wild mosquito population.

“WMP has seen a big drop in dengue cases where Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes were set loose. And since Aedes aegypti also spreads Zika and chikungunya, WMP is rolling out a ‘three-for-one’ strategy to control these diseases,” says Dr. Strode, as told to BBC Science Focus on January 17, 2024.

This Wolbachia mosquito trick is like a laser – it targets only Aedes aegypti. No collateral damage, unlike those insecticides that go after every bug in town.

Safe for Humans or What?

Professor Dr. Aryati from Universitas Airlangga’s Medical School wants us to chill. She says Wolbachia is a natural bacteria found in butterflies, flies, and bees, not just mosquitoes.

Aryati swears that mosquitoes with Wolbachia have bacteria, but they won’t mess with humans.

“The bacteria stay put because they’re hanging out only in mosquito bodies. So, if you get bitten, no need to stress – it won’t make you sick,” she assures.

“Don’t worry about it. If you’ve been mosquito-snacked, you’re good. The mosquito bacteria doesn’t play tag with humans,” she adds.

Lots of evidence now shows that these Wolbachia mosquitoes can seriously cut down on dengue cases – like a 77.1% drop. It’s a cool, safe way to tackle dengue, giving us hope for a future with way less dengue drama.