Cairns dengue fever trial a success
World first: Scientific officer Melinda Greenfield examines mosquitoes stuck to a trap. The Eliminate Dengue team will continue their work after a successful trial in Cairns. Picture: Marc Mc Cormack
A WORLD first science experiment to control the spread of dengue fever will continue in the Far North after its overwhelming success in Cairns.
Scientists from the Eliminate Dengue team have released the results from trials where mosquitoes were infected with a bacteria to block the insects spreading the dengue fever virus to people.
From the start of the year, about 6000 mosquitoes infected with the naturally occurring Wolbachia bacteria were released into Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale.
The pioneering research project was the result of an international collaboration of scientists from research institutes in Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, the US and Brazil. Much of the work occurred at James Cook University in Cairns.
Five weeks after the final release, 100 per cent of the mozzies in Yorkeys Knob were found to carry the bacteria, while 90 per cent was recorded in Gordonvale.
The results have been published in leading scientific journal Nature.
Monash University’s Professor Scott O’Neill said the experiment had worked "beautifully".
The project will now move onto trials in Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil and Indonesia, where dengue virus is rampant. It is expected to start in Vietnam within the next 12 months.
"The next step for us now is to really do the big experiment to show the impact on dengue disease," Prof O’Neill said. "We can’t do that in Cairns because there’s not enough around here, so we have to go where it’s a really big problem such as South-East Asia, and do what we did in Cairns there."
In the meantime, the team plans to carry out further trials in Cairns over the coming wet season to test how well the bacteria spreads in other areas including Parramatta Park, and whether another strain of the bacteria will have as much success.
There was a dengue fever outbreak in Parramatta Park earlier this year.
"We will monitor what we have done already and just see whether it’s holding in the population at Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale," Prof O’Neill said.
It is hoped the bacteria method of controlling dengue will be used alongside other methods including vaccines as they become available.
Residents are reminded to be vigilant to further reduce the spread of the disease.
"We’re strongly encouraging people not to change their behaviour, and to still put insecticide on and still reduce the amount of breeding sites until we have more information about how effective this method is going to be," Prof O’Neill said.