Queensland expands Dengue control trials

By Paul Hemsley

The Queensland government has expanded a revolutionary trial with Cairns Regional Council that uses mosquitoes deliberately infected with a special bacteria to halt the spread of Dengue Fever in its tracks.

Known as Wolbachia, the bacterium does not kill mosquitoes but blocks the blood-feeding insect’s ability to transmit the Dengue virus to humans, thereby effectively neutralising a key transmission vector.

Dengue’s symptoms can range from a mild fever to a potentially life-threatening blood related illness.

If successful, the ability to block mosquito-borne transmission of diseases to humans has huge potential health benefits across the Asia Pacific region and other tropical climates because it could be used to control endemic diseases like malaria that kills millions of people each year.

The expanded Cairns trials are part of a collaborative international research effort known as ‘Eliminate Dengue’ that extends across Brazil, China and Indonesia and Vietnam.

The Cairns trial essentially works by deliberately introducing mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia into the environment, which then mate with wild mosquitoes and pass Wolbachia to their offspring, hopefully rendering them unable to pass on dengue.

Queensland Science Minister Minister, Ros Bates, said that a current outbreak of Dengue Fever now had “28 confirmed cases of the disease in the [Cairns] region this season.”

“Fifty million people around the globe contract Dengue Fever each year. This research, led by Professor Scott O’Neill from Monash University, could have amazing health benefits world-wide,” Ms Bates said

“More than 90 per cent of infected mosquitoes in the first trial sites of Gordonvale and Yorkeys Knob still have Wolbachia, so there would be a low chance of any further transmission of Dengue in these areas.”

In addition to Monash University, researchers from James Cook University, the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne are taking part in the Wolbachia trial.

“Scientists have extended their research into the suburbs of Edge Hill, Whitfield, Parramatta and Westcourt, with this latest trial expected to run for three months,” Ms Bates said.

Researchers began the first ‘Eliminate Dengue’ field trials in 2011 to understand if the natural bacterium, Wolbachia will counteract the mosquito’s ability to transmit dengue to humans by acting as a “vaccine” without killing the insects.

Scientists want to learn if the Wolbachia bacterium will take hold in wild populations of the dengue-carrying Aedes aegupti mosquito in the urban suburbs.

Funding for the ‘Eliminate Dengue’ program has come from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health through Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations since 2005.

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