Australia's scientists are trying to wipe out dengue fever by a groundbreaking scheme of field trial that could save tens of thousands of lives each year, the Australian Associated Press reported on January 3.

They have developed a bacterium that acts as a vaccine for mosquitoes, which could in turn stop the disease spreading in humans, the report said. Professor Scott O'Neill, from the University of Queensland, was “incredibly excited” about a 12-week field trial that starts in the Cairns suburbs of Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale in far north Queensland.

With up to 100 million people — largely from developing countries — being infected with dengue fever each year, a global solution was long overdue, he said.

Up to 40,000 people die, because families in poorer nations are unable to seek health care.

O'Neill said his project could become the safest and most cost-effective solution, eliminating the need for environmentally harmful insecticides.

The field trial, that began on January 4, involves introducing strains of a naturally occurring bacterium called Wolbachia into the mosquito population.

Laboratory research has shown that Wolbachia acts like a vaccine for the mosquito, by monopolising resources needed by the dengue virus. The Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes have been bred at James Cook University, Cairns.

The Eliminate Dengue team says it has made sure the Cairns community, which records an average of 1,000 cases of dengue fever each year, is fully informed of the trial. “If those experiments are successful then we might expect to see full implementation and control of dengue in the Cairns region in a two to four year time frame,” O'Neill said. “If we encounter unexpected difficulties, for example if we were to determine that the Wolbachia infection did not spread easily into wild mosquito populations, then it may take a longer time to fine-tune the technology until we are ready for full deployment,” he added.

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