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Fighting fire with fire? Using bacteria to inhibit the spread of dengue

Like Ebola, dengue is a particularly nasty virus for which there are no vaccines, so prevention efforts have centered on the the mosquito, Aedes aegypti, that transmits the disease. And, today, Shots is reporting on a fascinating study from Monash University that involves the use of bacteria to inhibit the spread of the virus:

About six years ago, Scott O'Neill of Monash University had an idea about using bacteria called Wolbachia to prevent dengue's spread. The idea works like this: Use a strain of Wolbachia to shorten the mosquito's life, killing it before it becomes mature enough to transmit the dengue virus. It was a good idea, but it didn't work because the infection didn't spread to enough mosquitoes.

But then O'Neill discovered something surprising. There are many strains of Wolbachia. Some do bad things to mosquitoes, such as shortening their lives, while others give them nothing more than the mosquito equivalent of the sniffles. Mosquitoes infected with any of these strains couldn't spread dengue.

With a mild infection, the mosquitoes would live long enough to spread the Wolbachia around, but not the dengue.

Head over to NPR to hear the audio version of the story - it's very interesting stuff. The research was published (registration required) this week in Nature.

Photo courtesy CDC and is U.S. Government Work

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