Mosquitos are generally considered a nuisance by everyone, but while they’re simply annoying in the Midwest, in Latin America or Africa they can be deadly. Mosquitos are capable of spreading a wide variety of diseases, such as yellow fever, chikungunya, and, most recently, the Zika virus.
The Zika virus, while not particularly dangerous to adults, can cause a variety of birth defects in children if mothers contract the disease while pregnant. Mosquitos are also notoriously hard to control, which means that preventing the disease from spreading has proven almost impossible.
There may be good news on the horizon, though. A team of researchers has discovered that a common bacteria, Wolbachia, which can be found in many insects but not usually mosquitos, can prevent mosquitos from spreading Zika and other diseases.
Mosquitos carrying the bacteria are less prone to being infected with Zika themselves, and even those that get infected aren’t capable of passing the disease on in their saliva. Best of all, females pass the bacteria on to their young, meaning that it wouldn’t take all that many mosquitos with the bacteria to spread it around throughout the population.
This research has been years in the making, as the team had been studying the effects of Wolbachia on other mosquito transmitted diseases in the first place. The team has performed laboratory tests and some field experiments, and were recently approved to do larger-scale tests in Australia. The results are looking quite positive, but it will still be some time before any kind of bacterial infection program can be put into place.
While it might seem like getting the bacteria out there sooner rather than later would be the obvious choice, there are still a lot of testing that needs to be done. We need to find out, for example, if the bacteria can infect humans as well, and what kind of effects that might have on us. When it comes to impacting the ecological balance, safe is always better than sorry.