At a time when the Island is fighting a pandemic, the Vector Control Unit of Puerto Rico seeks to contain another constant threat to health: Aedes aegypti, the vector that transmits dengue, zika and chikungunya.
It deals with the Male Mosquito Technique with Wolbachia, which seeks to reduce the population of female Aedes mosquitoes by releasing males – which do not bite – with Wolbachia, a bacterium found naturally in 60% of insects in the world.
The associate director of the Vector Control Unit, Dr. Marianyoly Ortiz, highlighted that the Island could become a pioneer in demonstrating whether this technique is effective in reducing cases, in addition to reducing the number of mosquitoes.
"Releasing male mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacteria has been successfully evaluated in the United States – in Florida and California – and in other countries such as Australia, Thailand, Mexico and Singapore," said the program attached to the Fideicom iso for Science, Technology and Research of Puerto Rico.
In Australia, the technique reduced the population of the Aedes mosquito by 70% in 2017, while in Fresno, California the figure rose to more than 95% in in 2018. In Miami, Florida, it managed to reduce 78% of the population in the same year.
Scientists discovered more than a decade ago that releasing male mosquitoes with Wolbachia reduces the amount of these insects in the environment. In 2005, they introduced Wolbachia into Aedes aegypti – which naturally does not have the bacteria – to control this population.
The technique allows the male mosquitoes carrying the bacteria to mate with the females, but the eggs that reproduce never will be born, which leads to the reduction of Aedes.
Now, the Vector Unit has the experimental permission of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as the Department of Agriculture and the local Health Department to bring this technique to the Island.
The first phase of releasing male Wolbachia mosquitoes on the Island – which will last six months – could start in late July or in the first weeks of August. Ortiz explained that this will be carried out in 120 communities in the municipality of Ponce, which are part of the Organized Communities for the Prevention of Arbovirus (COPA) project.
“In total, 1.5 million mosquitoes will be released per week , these are the numbers with which we are starting ”, explained Ortiz in a virtual press conference. They will be released from trucks three times a week, and only in some areas to compare whether mosquitoes and diseases are indeed reduced.
The mosquito that will be released in different areas of the southern municipality will be produced by the company Verily, developer of technology to produce, separate by sex and release millions of male mosquitoes with Wolbachia. This will be the company that will come to the Island in the next few weeks to train the local team.
"The mosquitoes are going to be released weekly for six months, so once we start fully, that will be constant", abounded. "Our goal is to extend it for at least one or two years."