Mosquitoes infected with bacteria could slow Zika spread

Introducing mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia — a bacterium that can infect 60 percent of all insect species — could help slow the rate of Zika transmission, according to a new study published in Cell Host & Microbe and covered by The New York Times.

Wolbachia nestles inside of individual cells, which prevents the bacterium from easily transferring from mosquito to mosquito and existing the host. However, the infected female mosquitoes do pass the bacterium to their offspring, thereby proliferating its existence in mosquito populations.

Scientists have previously identified a strain of Wolbachia that was found to block dengue transmission in the Aedes aegypti mosquito — the species also responsible for spreading Zika virus. According to the Times, when mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia were introduced in nations like Vietnam, Indonesia and Brazil, locally acquired dengue cases dissipated.

For the new study, scientists introduced Zika-tainted human blood to mosquitoes — some carrying the dengue-blocking Wolbachia, others not. After two weeks, the researchers found the mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia had significantly lower levels of Zika genes than the ones that didn't. Next, they extracted saliva from Zika-infected mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia into uninfected mosquitoes. In 80 trials, no Zika transmission occurred. In 80 separate trials with mosquitoes not carrying the bacterium, Zika infection occurred 85 percent of the time.

Luciano A. Moreira, PhD, a biologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and the lead author of a new report on the findings, told the Times, "We are pretty sure that mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia will have a great impact on Zika transmission in the field...we have very good results, comparable to the best results we got for dengue."

More articles on the Zika virus: 
Zika concerns may lead to cancellation of MLB contests in Puerto Rico 
Zika vaccine testing could begin in September 
Zika Q&A: Miami infectious disease expert shares his thoughts

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