Mosquitoes carrying bacteria aimed at reducing Zika transmission to be released

Scientists are to release mosquitoes in Colombia and Brazil carrying a bacteria which could "significantly reduce" the insects' ability to transmit viruses like Zika to humans.

New funding to tackle infectious diseases was announced at a conference in London on Wednesday with the British Government pledging around £360 million over the next four years on research.

Trials have shown in areas with large concentrations of mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia bacteria "there is no local transmission" of viruses, according to medical research charity the Wellcome Trust.

Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacteria present in 60% of insect species, is not naturally present in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes - the primary carriers of the Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, and the Wellcome Trust are also part of an international donor coalition funding the Eliminate Dengue Programme.

Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development, said: "It is vital that the international research community works together to tackle devastating diseases, such as Zika and dengue.

"Wolbachia is a ground-breaking potential sustainable solution to reduce the impact of these outbreaks around the globe, including for the world's poorest people."

Mosquitoes with Wolbachia breed with local mosquitoes when released into an area, passing their bacteria on to offspring, creating a self-sustaining effect.

Within months, the majority of the insects carry Wolbachia which "significantly reduces the capacity of the mosquitoes to transmit viruses to humans," the Wellcome Trust said.

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates told The Associated Press: "We'll know within a year, if these mosquitoes we've released, if they're becoming common amongst the population.

"Then we'll see simply by the number of people who get sick from either Zika or dengue.

"If those numbers come down quite substantially in these cities but not in other cities that'll be the proof of this over a decade-long quest to use this intervention."

Dr Mike Turner, of the Wellcome Trust, said: "This research is essential as it will help measure the health impact of the Wolbachia method in large urban areas, where these kinds of outbreaks can have such a devastating impact."

Zika has been linked with birth mutations where babies are born with small heads and has become a global health concern in recent years, particularly in South America.


 

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