The results of the three-year study offer hope in the global battle against a disease that makes millions sick each year.
Dengue fever infections dropped dramatically in an Indonesian study where a bacterium was introduced into disease-carrying mosquitoes, offering hope in the battle against a disease that plagues millions annually.
The results of the three-year study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week, found that infection of dengue-carrying mosquitoes with a harmless bacterium called Wolbachia caused a 77% drop in human cases.
Infections that require hospitalization also fell 86 percent in Wolbachia-treated areas of Yogyakarta, a city on the island of Java where the experiment was conducted, the researchers said.
The study was conducted by the World Mosquito Program at Monash University in Australia and Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia.
“The 77 per cent figure is honestly quite fantastic for a communicable disease and we are very grateful for the result,” said Adi Utarini, a public health researcher at Gadjah Mada University who co-led the study.
The trial consisted of releasing Wolbachia to the mosquito population from specific areas of Yogyakarta to measure how it affected the incidence of infections among young people aged three to 45 years.
It has now expanded to other parts of the city.
Wolbachia suppresses the virus’s ability to replicate in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry dengue and cause infections when bitten by humans.
Previous trials with 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 change the game in a global battle against the disease, which can sometimes be fatal.
Symptoms usually include body aches, fever, and nausea.
“This is the result we were expecting,” said Scott O’Neill, director of the World Mosquito Program.
“We have evidence that our Wolbachia method is safe, sustainable and drastically reduces the incidence of dengue.
“It gives us great confidence in the positive impact this method will have on the world when it is offered to communities at risk for these mosquito-borne diseases,” he added.
Dengue is the most widespread mosquito-borne disease in the world, with more than 50 million cases worldwide each year, including about 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.