MELBOURNE, April 1 (Xinhua) -- A team of Australian researchers have come up with a unique way of preventing the spread of the dengue virus, a mosquito-borne disease that currently has no approved vaccine.
Dengue fever, a viral infection found throughout 110 countries, is spread between humans and mosquitoes in tropical climates, causing flu-like symptoms such as headaches and joint pain.
It is a widespread public health problem in Asia and Latin America, with research estimates suggesting there are more than 100 million cases diagnosed globally every year.
The University of Melbourne-led team discovered that mosquitoes, after being exposed to an insect bacterium called Wolbachia, were unable to acquire the dengue virus from infected humans.
Prof. Cameron Simmons, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne and the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, said on Wednesday that the discovery could mean a drastic reduction in the cases of dengue.
"We did a 'real world' experiment and allowed mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia and uninfected mosquitoes to feed on the blood of Vietnamese dengue patients," Simmons said.
"Our team then measured how efficiently Wolbachia blocked dengue virus infection of the mosquito body and saliva, which in turn steps stops them spreading the virus between humans."
The research concluded that in areas of a low dengue infection rate, exposing mosquitos to Wolbachia could stop all cases of dengue fever.
"We found that Wolbachia could eliminate dengue transmission in locations where the intensity of transmission is low or moderate," Simmons said.
"In high transmission settings, Wolbachia would also cause a significant reduction in transmission.
"Our findings are important because they provide realistic measures of the ability of Wolbachia to block transmission of the dengue virus and provide precise projections of its impact on dengue infections."
Wolbachia was recently introduced to tropical Australian cities Townsville and Cairns, in northern Queensland, and researchers expect the number of dengue infections in those centers to be drastically lower than in previous years.
"Our results will enable policy makers in dengue-affected countries to make informed decisions on Wolbachia when allocating scarce resources to dengue control," Simmons said.