Special mosquitoes are being bred to fight dengue fever, also known as ‘breakbone fever’

Special mosquitoes are being bred to fight dengue fever, also known as ‘breakbone fever’
mosquitoes spread malaria and tropical diseases.

Dengue fever can be an agonizingly painful disease, causing severe muscle spasms and joint pain. It can be as painful for some as breaking a bone, which is why it’s also known as “breakbone fever.” Recently, there were 11 cases of locally-acquired dengue fever in Florida.

Researchers are looking for more effective ways to fight the disease. CNN reports:

For decades, preventing dengue fever in Honduras has meant teaching people to fear mosquitoes and avoid their bites. Now, Hondurans are being educated about a potentially more effective way to control the disease — and it goes against everything they’ve learned.

Which explains why a dozen people cheered last month as Tegucigalpa resident Hector Enriquez held a glass jar filled with mosquitoes above his head, and then freed the buzzing insects into the air. Enriquez, a 52-year-old mason, had volunteered to help publicize a plan to suppress dengue by releasing millions of special mosquitoes in the Honduran capital.

The mosquitoes Enriquez unleashed in his El Manchen neighborhood — an area rife with dengue — were bred by scientists to carry bacteria called Wolbachia that interrupt transmission of the disease. When these mosquitoes reproduce, they pass the bacteria to their offspring, reducing future outbreaks.

This emerging strategy for battling dengue was pioneered over the last decade by the nonprofit World Mosquito Program, and it is being tested in more than a dozen countries. With more than half the world’s population at risk of contracting dengue, the World Health Organization is paying close attention to the mosquito releases in Honduras, and elsewhere, and it is poised to promote the strategy globally.

In Honduras, where 10,000 people are known to be sickened by dengue each year, Doctors Without Borders is partnering with the mosquito program over the next six months to release close to 9 million mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia bacteria.

Scientists have made great strides in recent decades in reducing the threat of mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria. But dengue is the exception: Its rate of infection keeps going up.

Models estimate that around 400 million people across some 130 countries are infected each year with dengue. Mortality rates from dengue are low – an estimated 40,000 people die each year from it – but outbreaks can overwhelm health systems and force many people to miss work or school.

“When you come down with a case of dengue fever, it’s often akin to getting the worst case of influenza you can imagine,” said Conor McMeniman, a mosquito researcher at Johns Hopkins University. It’s commonly known as “breakbone fever” for a reason, McMeniman said.

Traditional methods of preventing mosquito-borne illnesses haven’t been nearly as effective against dengue.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are also a challenging foe because they are most active during the day – meaning that’s when they bite – so bed nets aren’t much help against them. Because these mosquitoes thrive in warm and wet environments, and in dense cities, climate change and urbanization are expected to make the fight against dengue even harder.

In addition to dengue fever occasionally showing up in the U.S., a locally-acquired case of malaria was recently reported near Washington, DC.

Having more effective mosquito repellents would be helpful to protect against many diseases.

“Scientists in Israel have developed a new kind of ‘chemical camouflage’ that could more effectively keep pesky mosquito bites at bay,” reports Euro News. But it will take years before it is available in the U.S., thanks to America’s incredibly slow Food and Drug Administration.

The new mosquito repellent is urgent, given the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitos, whose bites cause hundreds of thousands of deaths annually around the world.

To fight them, scientists at the Hebrew University in Israel have developed a new kind of insect repellent – a “chemical camouflage” – that they say will deter 99% of mosquitoes from landing on areas of skin to which the repellent is applied.

“First, it’s a mechanical protection against mosquitoes biting through your skin. Second, this cellulose polymer acts as a chemical camouflage,” says Dr. Jonathan Bohbot of Hebrew University.”It prevents your smell that attracts mosquitoes and brings more mosquitoes in, and then, it also releases our repellent very slowly. So, it extends its duration of protection,” he says.

Typical repellents work by dissuading mosquitoes that have already come close to someone from biting them.

The new chemical camouflage repellent acts by preventing a mosquito from approaching a person to begin with.

Bohbot and his fellow researchers anticipate selling the new repellent by next year.

But it may not reach the U.S. market. The Food and Drug Administration keeps the most effective sunscreens off the U.S. market. It may do the same with this mosquito repellent, just as the Obama administration impeded anti-mosquito remedies during an outbreak of the disease Zika, which results in birth defects. As Washington University in St. Louis notes, “Due to Zika virus, more than 1,600 babies were born in Brazil with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, from September 2015 through April 2016.” The Obama administration banned a life-saving pesticide, preventing it from being used to kill mosquitos carrying this awful disease, even though, as the New York Post noted at the time, Zika “infected nearly 300 pregnant women in the United States, putting their babies at risk for a devastating birth defect. . . . hundreds of babies are at risk of a horrifying brain defect called microcephaly. Infants who don’t perish outright need extensive care, which can cost up to $10 million.”

The FDA blocks new innovations that will protect your skin. Insider reports that the “US has awful sunscreen compared to Asia and Europe. Strict, decades-old FDA rules are to blame”:

  • European and Asian sunscreens boast stronger and smoother formulas than sunscreens found in the US.
  • That’s because the FDA is slower to approve new UV filters compared to other countries.
LU Staff

LU Staff

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