ECCMID17: Could Wolbachia be a promising tool to control Zika?

Intracellular bacterium Wolbachia has shown promise as a biological control tool for Zika in mouse models, according to research presented at the 27th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (April 22–25, Vienna).

During the conference’s talk entitled ‘Zika Update’, Matthew Aliota (University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA) presented research displaying the potential of introducing Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with the intracellular bacterium Wolbachia as a tool to control the vector-host transmission and reduce incidence of mosquito-borne disease.

Aliota highlighted that the Wolbachia bacterium can establish itself easily in mosquito populations, as it is transmitted to offspring via a female mosquito’s eggs. Initially pioneered as a control method for dengue, evidence now suggests this strategy may also be effective against other arboviruses, including chikungunya and Zika.

With regards to Zika, this method has been tested in mouse models – mice infected with Zika were exposed to mosquitoes, both with and without introduced Wolbachia. After feeding, the mosquitoes are then tested to ascertain if they are Zika positive and if they contain the infectious virus. Aliota stated the evidence from these studies suggests the wMel strain of Wolbachia can block the transmission of currently circulating Zika virus isolates.

Wolbachia mosquitoes are currently being implemented in a number of field trials, for example in Bello, Columbia, as a control measure for dengue. Aliota reported that Wolbachia had been demonstrated to be self-sustaining – remaining at high levels in mosquito populations. Moreover, since release of Wolbachia mosquitoes, Aliota stated there had been no reported cases of locally acquired dengue in these areas.

Aliota then gave the audience a future perspective, disclosing details of larger field trials that are planned for the near future, for example, trials in Mendellin (Columbia) and Yogyakarta City (Indonesia). To conclude, he highlighted that this biological intervention has global promise, demonstrating itself as both safe, sustainable and cost-effective.



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