Bacteria-Laced Mosquitoes|May Slow Zika’s Spread

     (CN) — A bacteria commonly found in insects could prove to be an important ally in the battle against the Zika virus, Brazilian researchers said this week.
     The mosquito-borne virus has spread rapidly throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and health officials are becoming increasingly concerned that the United States could experience local transmission this summer.
     Infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia — a strain of bacteria — could reduce their ability to transmit Zika, Brazilian scientists said on Wednesday.
     Nations like Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia have previously released the bacteria in an effort to stem the transmission of dengue, another mosquito-borne virus that is spread by the same species of mosquito — the Aedes aegypti.
     Zika is linked to microcephaly, a congenital disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads and potential brain damage.
     The international scientific community has struggled to develop methods for slowing Zika’s rapid spread. A vaccine is believed to be at least a year away, and reliable tests will likely not be ready for at least a few more months.
     The Federal Drug Administration granted emergency-use authorization for the first commercial test for Zika this past Friday. The test, which was developed by Quest Diagnostics, will be used to test people in the United States and Puerto Rico.
     The study on the use of Wolbachia to fight Zika was conducted by Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and published in Cell Host & Microbe.
     Wolbachia is found in roughly 60 percent of common insects and is one of the few natural solutions for potentially stemming the spread of Zika.
     The process requires inserting the bacteria into mosquito eggs, which leads to the bacteria being passed along to offspring.
     “The idea has been to release Aedes mosquitoes with Wolbachia over a period of a few months, so they mate with Aedes mosquitoes and, over time, replace the mosquito population,” senior author Luciano Moreira, from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, told Scientific American.
     Concerns over Zika transmissions in Brazil has marred the lead-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics, which begins in Rio de Janerio in August.
     Moreira’s team infected Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes and field mosquitoes with the strains of Zika currently circulating in Brazil. After two weeks, the mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia had less Zika in their bodies and saliva — making them less able to infect humans with the virus.
     Previous experiments with Wolbachia have demonstrated an ability to limit transmission of one pathogen while increasing the spread of another. However, the team’s findings indicate that is no longer a concern.
     Moreira said that the strategy is not 100 percent effective, and should be used as part of a nuanced strategy for battling the virus.

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