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Fighting Dengue with Mosquitoes

Update Date: Nov 05, 2013 03:48 PM EST
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Dengue fever, which has been dubbed "break bone fever," can cause serious headaches, fevers, sweat and bubbling rashes. Since there is no vaccine or specific treatment to fight against the virus, people usually have to live through the symptoms before the virus subsides. In some cases, however, the virus could lead to dengue hemorrhagic fever, which could cause organ failure, internal bleeding, shock and even death.

Over the past years, researchers have attempted to find a vaccine or other ways of preventing dengue from spreading, which occurs via mosquitoes. Now, a recent study is reporting the mosquitoes infected with a bacteria known as Wolbachia are somewhat protected against Dengue. These mosquitoes could be the key in preventing dengue from affecting roughly 390 million people.

For this study, scientist Scott O'Neill from Australia and fellow researchers discovered that mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia lived shorter and were partially or entirely protected from the dengue virus. If they could not get infected, these mosquitoes would not be able to transfer the virus to humans. Wolbachia exists in about 70 percent of insects, but for some undiscovered reason, the bacteria cannot be found in mosquitoes.

"The dengue virus couldn't grow in the mosquito as well if the Wolbachia was present," says O'Neill, dean of science at Monash University in Melbourne reported by ABC News. "And if it can't grow in the mosquito, it can't be transmitted."

In 2008, O'Neill and his researchers introduced these mosquitoes in small Australian communities and found that they were successful in preventing the spread of dengue. They also lasted in the wild although the researchers had to use strains of Wolbachia that were less effective against dengue in order to improve the mosquitoes' survival rates.

Now, these mosquitoes have been brought to Vietnam to see if they could survive in the wilderness. Entomologist, Nguyen Thi Yen, nicknamed Dr. Dracula, has been feeding these mosquitoes with her own arm. Yen, 58-years-old, works at Vietnam's National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology. The mosquitoes are currently being released in a small island off of Vietnam and will be released in Indonesia next year. Asia deals with relatively more cases of dengue and researchers are hoping that these mosquitoes could act like a vaccine for this population.

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