Published: Thu, October 27, 2016
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Experts Hope Mosquito-Borne Bacteria Can Beat Zika Virus

Other investigations found that Wolbachia infection cuts the virus load in mosquito saliva by 55 percent. But the project was only given the go ahead by the World Health Organisation in March.

Researchers with the Eliminate Dengue Program have developed a way to transfer the bacteria to Aedes mosquitoes.

The $18m dollar project is funded by an worldwide team of donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Pan American Health Organization in April offered to provide technical support to help Zika-affected countries implement Wolbachia-related mosquito control programs. The unconventional approach will be applied in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Medellín, Colombia, over the course of two years. The virus doesn't occur naturally in Aedes aegypti - the tropical mosquitoes primarily responsible for spreading viruses such as Zika, yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya - but researchers have spent more than 10 years working to coax the bacteria into infecting that particular breed of insect in a bid to derail the diseases it carries.

Small-scale field trials began in Rio de Janeiro in 2014 and Bello, Colombia - a suburb of northwestern Medellin - in 2015.

Wolbachiahas an impressive ability to surge through wild mosquito populations, says McCall, but proving that this limits human infections will be critical before the approach can find widespread use.

"It's affordable, sustainable, and appears to provide protection against Zika, dengue, and a host of other viruses", he said in a statement.

Trevor Mundel, PhD, president of the Gates Foundation's global health division, said in the EDP news release, "Wolbachia could be a revolutionary form of protection against mosquito-borne disease".

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

The connection between Zika and microcephaly came to light past year in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,800 cases of babies with microcephaly that it considers are linked to Zika infections in the mothers. The resulting offspring will also carry the bug and will be less able to contract risky viruses and pass them along to humans, effectively cutting transmission rates. They said advice to the public should give clear messages about the contributions of mosquito-borne, vertical, sexual, and bloodborne transmission so that people can make informed choices about prevention steps.

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