World Mosquito Program In La Paz

Who doesn’t want justice against these little buggers?

Dengue fever caused by mosquitos is a threat for nearly one-half of the world’s population. In 2013 and 2014, the viral infection ripped through the capital of our state, Baja California Sur, with almost 4,500 confirmed cases, the highest in Mexico during that period. All stats and figures taken from WHO or WMP

But this year a new defense against the dengue virus is coming to La Paz. The World Mosquito Program (WMP), formerly known as Eliminate Dengue, is teaming up with Baja California Sur health officials to try to decrease the number of cases. Dengue is a viral infection that, according to the World Health Organization, causes flu-like symptoms such as high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands, body aches, and pain behind the eyes. There is no treatment for dengue and some cases can be deadly. Mosquitos can be more than just an itchy nuisance.

WMP is a non-profit initiative established by Monash University in Australia. Several non profits support WMP, including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the governments of countries such as the UK, Australia, and Brazil.

The WMP is in the process of developing a plan for large urban cities and aims to implement their method to eliminate dengue for a cost of just 1 U.S. dollar per person. With successes in Queensland, Australia and Bello, Colombia, the WMP is working on 12 other sites around the world.

This is how it works and will work in our state: They don’t use chemicals, sprays ,or genetically modified mosquitoes. Vaccines aren’t used and volunteers don’t run around the city dumping all the standing water. They use the Wolbachia method. It’s not as ominous as it sounds. Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacteria present in 60% of insects, like butterflies, moths, and you guessed it, mosquitos. Experts infect mosquitos with the bacteria that, in a sense, strangles the virus, which makes it nearly impossible for Dengue to transfer to other mosquitos or humans. Wolbachia does not transmit to humans and it is not harmful to animals that have these insects on their dinner menu.

The method is extra effective also because Wolbachia is inherited by the next generation of mosquitos. So, if only the female or if both parents have the bacteria, then Wolbachia is passed on to the eggs. However, if a female without Wolbachia mates with a mosquito with the bacteria, then the eggs do not develop. So, either eggs don’t develop, or the bacteria spreads exponentially, constricting the dengue virus. WMP does not want to destroy mosquito populations, but aims to provide a sustainable solution for areas at risk for dengue.

The program acknowledges the method may become less effective over a long period. For example, the virus could build a resistance to Wolbachia, but WMP insists the benefits far outweigh a hypothetical resistance that might occur decades from now. 

WMP plans to release the first batches of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in La Paz later this year. A release of male and female mosquitos will start with a small number of insects, and then WMP repeats the process over a number of weeks. These mosquitos mate with others in the area, increasing the number of mosquitos with the bacteria.

Does this help with their sting and the itchy result of that? No. Does it help with malaria? No, but we don’t have malaria here.

For more information on the World Mosquito Program, you can visit their website at worldmosquitoprogram.org or eliminatedengue.com/program.