Great news from Indonesia in the battle against dengue – a disease that’s been on the increase in the recent decades, making about 400 million people sick every year, mainly in cities in hot countries. A report published today, Thursday, by scientists has shown that a clever new way of treating the mosquitoes which carry the bug has cut the number of people who catch it by more than three quarters.
It all started over 30 years ago when a young scientist in Australia, Scott O’Neill, started experimenting with microscopic bacteria called Wolbachia, a tiny bug that lives in insects. Over the years, he discovered that he could get Wolbachia into mosquitoes (you have to inject it with tiny, tiny needles into tiny mosquito eggs). And he found that mosquitoes which have Wolbachia can’t carry diseases that make people sick when the mosquitoes bite them.
We’ve reported before about efforts to fight another disease, malaria, using this idea. But today’s confirmation of the results of a big test against dengue in the city of Yogyakarta in Indonesia was a major breakthrough.
One of the researchers working on the project, Dr. Katie Anders, told the BBC that it was “naturally miraculous”. She added: “It’s very exciting. It’s better than we could have hoped for.” In areas of the city where the team released mosquitoes that carried Wolbachia, the number of people getting sick with dengue was 77% lower than in the other districts. And there was a whopping 86% drop in people getting so ill they had to go to hospital.
One of the great things about the Wolbachia treatment is that it’s quite natural and doesn’t hurt the mosquitoes. They keep on flying about, being important food for birds, fish and all sorts of other creatures. They still bite people to drink their blood – but they don’t pass on dengue.
Scott O’Neill’s World Mosquito Program are working around the world to use their method to fight dengue as well as malaria, yellow fever, zika and other diseases carried about by mosquitoes.