A Pivotal Mosquito Experiment Could Not Have Gone Better

E. Yong,  The Atlantic,  2021.

The World Mosquito Program (WMP), a nonprofit that pioneered this technique, had run small pilot studies in Australia that suggested it could work. Utarini, who co-leads WMP Yogyakarta, has now shown conclusively that it does. Her team released Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes in parts of Yogyakarta as part of a randomized controlled trial. The results, which were unveiled last year and have now been published, showed that Wolbachia rapidly spread among the local mosquitoes, and reduced the incidence of dengue by 77 percent. “That provides the gold standard of evidence that Wolbachia is a highly effective intervention against dengue,” says Oliver Brady, a dengue expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not involved in the study. “It has the potential to revolutionize mosquito control.” The trial’s results were so encouraging that the researchers have since released Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes over all of central Yogyakarta—a 32-square-kilometer zone that’s home to more than 400,000 people. They’re now expanding into the densest surrounding provinces, aiming to protect 4 million people by the end of 2022. If they succeed, they should be able to prevent more than 10,000 dengue infections every year, Katherine Anders of the WMP told me. And the team is optimistic enough that it’s daring to think about an even grander goal: eliminating dengue from the city altogether.

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