Infection cuts mosquitoes' lives short

Fri Jan 2, 2009 6:02pm EST
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By Pauline Askin

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Infecting mosquitoes with a common bacteria can cut their lives short and reduce the likelihood they will transmit dengue and other diseases, Australian researchers reported on Friday.

They genetically engineered bacteria known as Wolbachia so they would infect the Aedes aegypti mosquito species that carry the dengue virus, and found infected mosquitoes lived half as long as uninfected mosquitoes.

This could reduce the chances they will transmit the virus to people, as the virus takes about two weeks to mature and become infectious inside a mosquito's body, they report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

"Dengue virus and the disease it causes is only transmitted to humans by the older female Aedes aegypti mosquito," said Scott O'Neill, head of University of Queensland's School of Biological Science.

"If we can introduced this into populations it should move the management of dengue fever from an outbreak management paradigm to a prevention paradigm," O'Neill said in a telephone interview.

Wolbachia bacteria, which occur naturally in fruit flies, allowed the mosquito to live long enough to reproduce and spread to its young, but not to mature to the stage when it is capable of transmitting dengue.

There is no vaccine or cure for dengue fever, which is a painful and debilitating disease also known as breakbone fever. When it takes on a hemorrhagic form it can kill, and dengue kills 22,000 people a year.

"Dengue around the world is getting worse now. We are seeing more and more activity around the world including Australia," said O'Neill.   Continued...

<p>A dengue patient (R) and her father wait for treatment at a special dengue ward inside a hospital in the northern Indian city of Allahabad in this file photo from October 17, 2006. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash</p>