Mosquitoes are a common nuisance for anyone who spends time outdoors. It seems like we're always swatting them away and spraying ourselves with repellent to keep them off.
However, mosquitoes can cause much more than just a buzzing in your ear and a few itchy bumps on your skin. They can spread dangerous diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, Zika, Malaria, West Nile and chikungunya.
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While there are plenty of resources to help prevent mosquito bites, not everyone has access to them and bites still happen. Researchers are working to find ways to keep mosquitoes from spreading dangerous diseases when they do manage to bite someone. Mosquitoes and the Spread of Dengue
Mosquitoes are a huge health concern, especially for people who are overseas and in tropical climates. Last year, almost 400 million people contracted dengue, an extremely painful viral disease. That number is high on its own, and it doesn't even include the people who contracted any of the other diseases that mosquitoes can spread.
With hundreds of millions of people being affected, outbreaks of dengue place a burden on local health clinics, which has led researchers to try to find a way to keep the disease from spreading as much as it does.
The World Mosquito Program is taking a new approach to this dilemma. Infecting Mosquitoes with Bacteria
Instead of trying to kill mosquitoes that carry dengue, the World Mosquito Program is infecting them with a bacterium called Wolbachia
and releasing them.
Why would a group of researchers willingly release mosquitoes they know carry a disease like dengue? It all has to do with the bacteria. Wolbachia
seems to stop mosquitoes from being able to transmit viruses like dengue. It also works on Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.
One might think trapping and killing the mosquitoes would be easier and more effective than cultivating and infecting them with bacteria. The problem is, trapping and killing them doesn't seem to really affect their population sizes. And it definitely doesn't stop them from biting people. Because of this, researchers knew the key to keeping dengue from spreading was to make mosquitoes incapable of transmitting it. The Results
In a laboratory setting, researchers were able to completely stop the transmission of dengue. When it comes to the real world, however, other insects and people migrating into an area mess up the data. That doesn't mean they didn't get some inspiring results outside of the lab, though.
Researchers released the Wolbachia
-infected mosquitoes into an Indonesian community of 50,000 people. They then compared this community to one that didn't have the Wolbachia
-infected mosquitoes. They saw a 75% decrease in the number of dengue cases in the first community over a period of two and a half years.
Other countries such as Australia and Malaysia have also been using mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia
to stop the spread of dengue.
Researchers have also tried this approach in Braziland have seen it work on diseases other than dengue. In areas of Brazil where Wolbachia
-infected mosquitoes have been introduced, researchers have seen a 70% to 75% decrease in cases of chikungunya, a disease that causes fevers and joint pain.
While this experiment has yet to completely stop dengue in any real-world environments, the results have been promising. As researchers continue to work hard, we might see a day where people no longer have to worry about diseases like dengue being spread by mosquitoes.
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