A BACTERIA that prevents mosquitoes transmitting dengue fever to humans has successfully been spread across most of northern Queensland.
Scientists responsible for the major milestone in the worldwide attempt to eradicate the potentially deadly virus are now setting their sights on the South Pacific.
The Eliminate Dengue Program (EDP) has announced that, after almost a decade, it has completed all of its releases in the region of mozzies infected with Wolbachia bacteria to prevent the spread of harmful diseases such as dengue, Zika virus and chikungunya.
The naturally occurring Wolbachia was first introduced into Aedes aegypti (dengue) mosquitoes released into the wild at Yorkeys Knob in 2010.
Since then, the Eliminate Dengue team – backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – has successfully introduced Wolbachia into high-risk dengue areas across Cairns, Townsville, Charters Towers, Douglas Shire and the Cassowary Coast, where the bacteria is being passed from generation to generation of mozzies.
Program development manager Geoff Wilson said the generous support of locals had been a major contributor to the achievement.
“The results we are seeing are extremely promising and we know that EDP’s method is self-sustaining, meaning the outcome is long-term,” he said.
The researchers will continue to monitor the presence of Wolbachia in local mosquito populations at all of their Australian project sites.
They have formed partnerships with the Fijian, Vanuatu and Kiribati health authorities to roll out mozzie releases in the South Pacific. They will join a growing list of countries already covered by EDP.
Dengue fever outbreaks occur when international travellers bring the virus into areas with Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
In the 2008-09 wet season, Australia’s worst dengue epidemic in over 50 years occurred in the Cairns and Townsville regions, with more than 1000 cases reported.
This year, 31 cases of dengue have been reported in Cairns.