Experiments in Brazil and California also
Australia has become the latest country to successfully combat mosquito-borne disease by releasing millions of sterile male mosquitoes to decimate their own populations. The experiment carried out by scientists near Cairns, Australia, last summer was a success: It has wiped out around 80 percent of mosquitoes that carry diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever, zika virus and chikungunya since the release, researchers announced this month.
The group introduced more than three million sterile male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Queensland, infected with a natural bacterium called Wolbachia, causing any female insects that mated with them to lay sterile eggs.
The experiment was similar to others carried out in recent years in California and Brazil. In each of those cases, researchers also released males who would cross with the wild mosquitoes that didn’t have that same strain of Wolbachia.
In Brazil: In 2016, researchers set up a facility about two hours’ drive outside Sao Paolo in order to produce about 30 million Wolbachia-exposed mosquitoes a week. They plan to ramp that up to 60 million for the next release. In 2015, at the peak of the Zika virus outbreak, authorities estimated that between 500,000 and 1.2 million people in that country had been infected.
In Fresno, California – about three hours southeast of San Francisco, in the Central Valley – vans released millions of male mosquitos with the bacterium last year, and researchers have found that mosquito populations there are down by about two-thirds. They plan to continue to continue the releases through 2018.
Fortunately, male mosquitoes don’t bite humans, and scientists are hopeful that the prospect of eliminating the spread of mosquito-borne diseases will be worth the expense and temporary inconvenience in these locations. To put the epidemics in perspective, malaria alone causes more than 1 million deaths per year around the world.
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