The results of the three-year study offer hope in the global battle against a disease that sickens millions of people annually.
Dengue infections fell dramatically in an Indonesian study in which a bacterium was introduced into disease-carrying mosquitoes, offering hope in the battle against a disease that sickens millions of people annually around the world.
Results of the three-year study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week, found that infecting mosquitoes carrying dengue with a harmless bacterium called Wolbachia led to a 77 percent drop in human cases.
Infections requiring hospitalization were also reduced by 86 percent in the Wolbachia-treated areas of Yogyakarta, a city on the island of Java where the experiment was carried out, the researchers said.
The study was conducted by the Global Mosquito Program at Monash University in Australia and Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia.
“Honestly, the 77 percent figure is pretty fantastic for a communicable disease and we are very grateful for the result,” said Adi Utarini, a public health researcher at the University of Gadjah Mada who co-led the study.
The trial involved the release of Wolbachia into the mosquito population in specific parts of Yogyakarta to measure how it affected the incidence of infections between the ages of three and 45.
Now it has spread to other parts of the city.
Wolbachia suppresses the virus’s ability to replicate in dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and cause infections when they bite humans.
Previous trials involving Wolbachia, which is commonly found in fruit flies and other insects, also showed positive results in reducing dengue cases, the researchers said.
Scientists hope the method could be a game changer in a global battle against the disease, which can sometimes be fatal.
Symptoms often include body aches, fever, and nausea.
“This is the result we were hoping for,” said World Mosquito Program Director Scott O’Neill.
“We have evidence that our Wolbachia method is safe, sustainable and dramatically reduces the incidence of dengue.
“It gives us great confidence in the positive impact this method will have around the world when delivered to communities at risk of these mosquito-borne diseases,” he added.
Dengue is the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne disease in the world, with more than 50 million cases each year worldwide, including some eight million in Indonesia.
Studies have also shown that the Wolbachia method can be effective in preventing the transmission of Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever and other mosquito-borne diseases, the researchers said.