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Nha Trang to Release 1m Dengue-Fighting Mosquitoes

Nha Trang may soon be on its way to becoming dengue-free.

According to Tuoi Tre, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health recently approved a plan to release roughly 1 million Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in Nha Trang in an effort to combat the spread of dengue.

Dengue, a mosquito-born viral infection, is a global problem: while the virus is particularly prevalent in Vietnam, half of the world’s population – 3.9 billion people – lives in an area affected by dengue. In 2015, the country’s Ministry of Health counted 45,000 cases of the illness nationwide between January and October.

However scientists have recently begun experimenting with Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacteria which is found in several other varieties of mosquito but not Aedes aegypti, the species known for carrying diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and the Zika virus. When used in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the bacteria shortens an insect’s life span and reduces its ability to contract dengue.

Though no official start date has been set for the project, health officials are planning to release up to 1.4 million Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes over the course of 12-18 weeks starting as soon as next month.

The project would be implemented in conjunction with the Eliminate Dengue organization, drawing funding from Australia’s Monash University and under supervision from Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology. In 2013, the organization ran a successful smaller experiment in the village of Tri Nguyen on a small island off the coast of Nha Trang. Scientists released a batch of mosquitoes on the island, and by December 2014 over 90% of the local mosquito population was Wolbachia-infected.

In Nha Trang, health officials plan to release Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in Vinh Phuoc, Vinh Tho, Vinh Truong and Phuoc Long wards, an area which is home to nearly 56,000 people. Within three months of the project’s implementation, the Ministry of Health estimates as many as 70% of the city’s mosquito population will be Wolbachia-infected.

As Nha Trang moves ahead with the project, health officials are working to educate local residents on the subject as well as requesting public feedback, Deputy Director Le Tan Phung of the Khanh Hoa Department of Health told Tuoi Tre.

Beyond Vietnam, similar projects are also being implemented around Southeast Asia and across the world. The Malay Mail reports that officials will release Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in Selangor, Malaysia next month, while Australia has already released its own batch of the dengue-fighting insects and China is working on its own program, according to The Scientist.

While this is good news for health officials hoping to eradicate dengue from their countries, The Scientist also cautions that Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes aren’t a perfect solution. Last month, scientific journal PLOS Pathogens published a study which found that certain strains of the bacteria were less effective than others when exposed to high temperatures.

[Photo via Flickr user Tom]

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