Mosquito sterilization offers new opportunity to control
chikungunya, dengue, and Zika
14 November 2019 . A technique that sterilizes male
mosquitoes using radiation will soon be tested as part of global health efforts
to control diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, and Zika.
The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) is a form of insect birth
control. The process involves rearing
large quantities of sterilized male mosquitoes in dedicated facilities, and
then releasing them to mate with females in the wild. As they do not produce
any offspring, the insect population declines over time.
The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical
Diseases (TDR) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in
partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
(FAO), and WHO have developed a guidance document for countries that have
expressed interest in testing the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for Aedes
Half the world at risk of dengue
“Half the world’s population is now at risk of dengue,” said
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist. “And despite our best efforts,
current efforts to control it are falling short. We desperately need new
approaches and this initiative is both promising and exciting.”
In recent decades, the incidence of dengue has increased
dramatically due to environmental changes, unregulated urbanization, transport
and travel, and insufficient sustainable vector control tools and their
Dengue outbreaks are currently occurring in several
countries, notably on the Indian sub-continent. Bangladesh is facing the worst
outbreak of dengue since its first recorded epidemic in 2000. The South Asian
nation has seen the number of cases rise to over 92,000 since January 2019,
with daily admissions peaking at more than 1,500 new dengue patients in
hospitals in recent weeks and is one of the countries to express interest in
the Sterile Insect Technique.
Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes such as malaria, dengue,
Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever account for about 17% of all infectious
diseases globally, claiming more than 700,000 lives each year, and inflicting
suffering on many more. The 2015 outbreak of Zika in Brazil was linked to an
increase in the number of babies being born with microcephaly.
New technique proved successful against insects that
attack crops and livestock
The Sterile Insect Technique was first developed by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture and has been used successfully to target insect pests
that attack crops and livestock, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly and the
New World screwworm fly. It is currently in use globally in the agriculture
sector on six continents.
The guidance on using the technique to control diseases in
humans recommends adopting a phased approach that allows time to test the
efficacy of the sterilized insects. Epidemiological indicators monitor the
impact of the method on disease-transmission. It also provides recommendations
on mass production of the sterile mosquitoes, government and community
engagement, measuring the impact of the technique, and assessing
“Countries seriously affected by dengue and Zika have shown
real interest in testing this technology as it can help suppress mosquitoes
that are developing resistance to insecticides, which are also negatively
impacting the environment,” said Florence Fouque, a scientist at TDR.
The collaborative effort includes plans to support three
multi-country teams of research institutions, vector control agencies and
public health stakeholders to test the Sterile Insect Technique against Aedes
“The use of the Sterile Insect Technique in the agriculture sector in the past 60 years has shown that it is a safe and effective method,” said Jérémy Bouyer, medical entomologist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. “We are excited to collaborate with TDR and WHO to bring this technology to the health sector to fight human diseases.”
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