Can dengue be eradicated?

September 22, 2011

A new technique involving genetically modified male mosquitoes could be used to eradicate dengue. The British company Oxitec breeds the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to give them a lethal gene that kills the offspring before they can reproduce. 

The company has received donations from the Gates Foundation and won a Technology Pioneer Award. An article on Oxitec in The Guardian newspaper said the breeding method reduced the mosquito population by 80 percent in the Cayman Islands. 

The company also has carried out trials in Brazil and Malaysia, but not yet in Central America, said Hadyn Parry, Oxitec’s chief executive. He said Oxitec remains in a “preliminary planning stage” with plans to keep expanding.

“We would believe our approach to be adaptable and could certainly be applicable to Costa Rica,” Parry told The Tico Times in an email. The biggest challenge is not implementing the technology, but “understanding the stakeholders, regulatory processes, logistics, etc.”

Some environmental organizations question the use of genetically mutated mosquitoes. Their short lifespan could lead to a more malicious organism filling the niche and a drop in food sources for predators. But supporters of the technique praise it as an innovative and effective alternative to pesticides.

Dengue affects 50 million people a year and kills 25,000, according to the World Health Organization. Approximately $5 billion is spent each year combating the illness. 

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