Deadly mosquito threat ‘wiped out’
SCIENTISTS have hailed a world-first breakthrough in wiping out up to 90 per cent of deadly disease-carrying mosquitoes in a trial in north Queensland.
The CSIRO study, to be revealed today, released three million sterilised male Aedes aegypti mozzies into three small sugar towns near Innisfail and almost completely eradicated the dangerous bugs known to carry dengue, zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.
Researchers hope the findings can help prevent global mosquito-borne outbreaks of the potentially fatal diseases.
"This is a substantial step forward in our ability to eradicate exotic mosquitoes,'' CSIRO research director Dr Paul De Barro told The Courier-Mail.
"We can show this knocks the mozzie population right down."
With the Asian tiger mosquito on our doorstep in the Torres Strait, it has been a race against time to control the bloodsucking insects.
"We've found how to get rid of mosquitoes altogether,'' Dr De Barro said.
"We don't want the Asian tiger, also known as the "barbecue stopper" for their biting prowess, getting into mainland Australia."
"The CSIRO had to look forward strategically to meet a major biosecurity threat."
The Debug Innisfail project used male mosquitoes infected with a strain of wolbachia, which when mated with females, caused the mozzie population to crash.
Preliminary data shows more than 80 per cent of the population was wiped out, but with further analysis, that figure is expected to be closer to 90 per cent.
It is different to Eliminate Dengue, a World Mosquito Program funded by the Gates Foundation, which sterilises mosquitoes, but does not eradicate them.
The CSIRO hopes the new technology can be used in a significant step towards battling infectious diseases.
One of the world's biggest killers, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infect almost 400 million people with diseases every year. They are linked to 20,000 deaths a year from dengue alone and can be found 200km north of Brisbane.
There have been about 4400 cases of locally acquired dengue - a painful and debilitating fever - in Queensland and three deaths since 1999.
Under the Debug Innisfail project, the towns of Mourilyan, Goondi Bend, and South Johnstone became ground zero for the release of three million mosquitoes.
The CSIRO, James Cook University, and Verily international team released, on average, 75 mozzies per home, three times a week.
Three other towns, without the mozzies, were part of study.
"It's a lot of mozzies into one area," JCU's Dr Kyran Staunton said. "But they were non-biting, so nobody had to be worried about being eaten alive."