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A 'Miraculous' Bacteria Makes Mosquitoes Less Fearsome

The Wolbachia bacteria cut dengue infections 77% in study
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 10, 2021 8:10 AM CDT

(Newser) – Scientists say a "miraculous" bacteria has shown great promise in tackling the threat from one of the world's most dangerous creatures: the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In a large-scale randomized trial in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, the use of mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria cut cases of dengue fever (there are as many as 400 million a year worldwide) by 77%, Science reports. The bacteria can prevent the dengue virus from replicating in the mosquitoes, making them less likely to pass on the disease to humans. It doesn't naturally occur in A. aegypti, but when mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia were released in 12 of the 24 zones researchers divided the city into, those zones saw a 77% decrease in dengue cases and an 86% decrease in dengue-related hospitalizations, researchers write in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Wolbachia passes itself on to the next generation of mosquitoes, making the program self-perpetuating. World Mosquito Program researcher Dr. Katie Anders describes the bacteria as "naturally miraculous." "It's very exciting, it's better than we could have hoped for to be honest," she says of the study results. She tells the BBC that the mosquitoes have now been released across the city and researchers hope the program will have an impact on other large cities where dengue is a major health problem. The bacteria has been used to fight the virus elsewhere, but this study "provides the gold standard of evidence that Wolbachia is a highly effective intervention against dengue," disease expert Oliver Brady tells the Atlantic. "It has the potential to revolutionize mosquito control." The treatment also appears effective against other diseases A. aegypti carries, including Zika. (Read more dengue fever stories.)

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