Infected mosquitoes ready to deliver curse to dengue fever

MOSQUITOES bearing bacteria will be let loose around Cairns today as part of a trial to rid the area of the insects that carry dengue fever.

It’s day one of a 12-week field trial of the $18 million Eliminate Dengue program designed to reduce the mosquito population.

The virus infects 50 million to 100 million people a year, causing the painful, debilitating and often fatal disease, for which there is no effective treatment.

“I really believe in this project and I’ll do everything I can to help,” said Allan Cullington, one of about 600 householders in the Cairns suburb of Yorkeys Knob, where the first designer mossies will be released — 10 per house.

Residents of Gordonvale have also volunteered 600 backyards for the trial.

Dengue fever is not common in Australia, but last year 1000 Cairns residents got the disease.

University of Queensland biologist Scott O’Neill said the trial involved introducing the Wolbachia bacterium into the Aedes aegypti mosquito population. There, it acts as a “vaccine” for the insect, protecting it from viruses, including dengue virus, and stopping transmission to people.

“By April, we should know if we are on the right track or not,” said Professor O’Neill, who is leading the international project.

He said the bacterium is transmitted only from mossie parent to offspring via the female’s eggs. It doesn’t infect people or mammals.

A CSIRO assessment found the risk to people was “negligible”, and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority granted regulatory approval for the trial. If all goes well, field trials will begin this year in Vietnam, followed by Thailand.

“The project took off when we received funding 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.