Infected mosquitoes that carry Wolbachia bacteria is believed to neutralizes and hinder the insects' ability to transmit Zika, dengue, and other viruses. This will be widely released in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Medellín, Colombia, over the next two years. Scientists announced on 26 October that the deployments will reach around 2.5 million people in each city.
Zika has spread through 50 countries in the past year and is believed to be responsible for nearly 2,200 cases of microcephaly for newly born babies. Microcephaly is the state of abnormal smallness of the head, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development.
According to The Telegraphy, the first large trials will take place next year in Bello in Colombia and the greater Rio de Janeiro area in Brazil with scientists monitoring locations closely for three years to see if cases of Zika fall. It is also hoped the modified insects will halt the spread of dengue and chikungunya. If successful, it could protect two million people against the viruses.
"This really has the potential to be a game-changer in terms of vector control - the biggest thing since DDT," says Philip McCall, a medical entomologist who studies mosquito control at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK. "If it works, it will be truly remarkable, but it has to still be working in ten years," he added.
Wolbachiahas an impressive ability to surge through wild mosquito populations, says McCall, but proving that this limits human infections will be critical before the approach can find widespread use. If Wolbachia is to make a dent in mosquito-borne diseases, the technique will also have to be cost-effective and long lasting, he adds.
"What we've been working on for more than 10 years now is a new approach for the control of these diseases and we're at the stage where we're ready to upscale those deployments to cities," Professor Scott O'Neill, of Monash University said.
Researchers at Australia's Monash University have been working for the past decade to infect mosquitoes with Wolbachia in an effort specifically to eliminate dengue. But for now, in this study, the Zika crisis in Latin America is their focus.