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Can Bacteria Help Stop the Spread of Disease?

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Rita Ramos keeps this white bucket under her front stairs. It contains a small packet of mosquito eggs, a few pellets of fish food and water. Together, these form an ideal breeding atmosphere for the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes. Courtesy of WHO 

Mosquitoes kill an estimated 700 000 people a year. If infected with viruses that cause diseases like chikungunya, dengue and Zika, mosquitos can transmit them to humans in one bite. Researchers have now pilot-deployed a new technique to control diseases transmitted by mosquitoes by making use of nature. It is one of the new tools the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for pilot deployment as a response to Zika virus.

Rita Ramos lives in Jurujuba, a fishing community of about 1000 people, across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is an administrator for her community, and her husband works in a construction materials shop. Since June 2016, she has been taking part in a project to help control a killer in her community: mosquitoes.

Researchers at Monash University in Australia (with the participation of Dr. Luciano Moreira from Brazil’s federal research center, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, or, Fiocruz), have discovered that mosquitoes artificially infected with a bacterium called Wolbachia do not transmit dengue, chikungunya and Zika as easily. Wolbachia bacteria exist naturally in 60 percent of common insects.

This innovative approach to control mosquito-transmitted diseases was brought to Brazil by Fiocruz in 2012. Initially a dengue control project, it began in a small community close to the international airport in 2014. In the current phase of the project, now in Jurujuba - Niterói, the researchers are breeding and releasing mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria. They aim to see how well these mosquitoes, by mating with wild mosquitoes, can pass the bacteria on to the next generation of mosquitoes, therefore creating populations of mosquitoes that cannot transmit deadly viruses.

To read further from the World Health Organization, CLICK HERE.

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