The 12 week programme costing $18 million named ‘Eliminate Dengue’ has commenced. Mosquitoes bearing a special bacteria would be released into the wild around Cairns as part of a trial to rid the area of the insects that carry Dengue fever.
Dengue infects 50 million to 100 million people each year leading to a serious fever with severe muscle pain which may often be fatal. Dengue still has no effective cure. Dengue fever is not common in Australia, but last year 1,000 Cairns residents got the disease. About 40 mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia bacteria will be released at every fourth home at Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale in the next 12 weeks.
University of Queensland biologist Scott O’Neill explained that the Aedes aegypti mosquito population would carry the Wolbachia bacterium that acts as a “vaccine” protecting it from viruses, including Dengue virus, and stopping transmission to people. Further the bacterium would be transmitted from mosquito parent to offspring via the female’s eggs. It is harmless to mammals and humans. Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium that is found in up to 70 per cent of all insect species, including many mosquitoes and is harmless to the environment.
A CSIRO assessment found the risk to people was “negligible”, and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority granted regulatory approval for the trial. Professor O’Neill who is leading the international project said, “By April, we should know if we are on the right track or not.” This year after the initial phase trials would commence in Vietnam and Thailand.
The funds have come from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Professor O’Neill. Additional funding came from Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council, the Queensland government and the University of Toronto. The State Government has contributed $1.95 million to the program.