After two years of research, the Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit, a program of the Trust for Science, Technology and Research of Puerto Rico, today began the release of male mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacteria in several communities of Ponce.
The Male Mosquitoes with Wolbachia project is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ponce Health Science University, PHSU and the Unit, with the aim of reducing the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
According to Marianyoly Ortiz, associate director of the Unit and who has a doctorate in environmental sciences and microbiology, “the male mosquitoes technique with Wolbachia is a possible alternative to reduce the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes vector of dengue, Zika and chikungunya on the island. Wolbachia is a bacterium that is found in nature in more than 60% of insects, but not in Aedes aegypti ”.
He added that “Dr. Stephen Dobson, from Mosquito Mate, discovered the strain of this bacterium that, when placed in male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, and they mate with female mosquitoes in the environment without Wolbachia, the eggs that the female lays are not viable. . So over time the number of mosquitoes in the environment is reduced and also the number of male mosquitoes to be released. It is important to remember that the male mosquito does not bite ”.
The technology for large-scale production and release of male mosquitoes into the environment was developed by the Verily Life Sciences company.
Mosquito releases are made from a specialized vehicle that will release a total of 1.5 million male Wolbachia mosquitoes per week through December.
Unit technicians and Verily staff design the route using an innovative computer system with GPS technology, which determines the number of mosquitoes to be released per area and the specific time it should occur.
This process is done using female mosquito surveillance data that the Unit has collected for two years.
“In the interventions carried out with the community, we have obtained 80% acceptance for the project, since the Unit established an educational process before starting. The most people ask is how we are sure they are male mosquitoes that do not bite, ”shared Ortiz.
He explained that “male mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacteria breed in large numbers in an insectary. In the pupal stage, 95% of the female pupae are removed with a special filter. The male pupa is smaller than the female pupa so it stays on top and the male goes down. Once separated, the pupae become adult mosquitoes where the rest of the females are eliminated using the physical differences between the adult male and female mosquitoes ”.
Meanwhile, Gabriela Paz-Bailey, Head of Epidemiology for the CDC’s Dengue Branch, commented that “in past years, dengue outbreaks have been a burden on the health system, since hospitals can fill up with dengue patients. There are cases that require hospitalization and severe dengue can be fatal ”.
He added that “in 2017, the Organized Communities for Arbovirus Prevention (COPA) project began in Ponce, together with the Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU). Historically, Ponce has had a large number of dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya cases. These viruses are transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It is important to find new methods that can reduce the risk of dengue and other viruses transmitted by this mosquito. We can make a difference by working together as a community, with the municipality and with our colleagues ”.
Wolbachia has been successfully tested in states such as California, Florida, and Texas, as well as other countries, such as Singapore, Australia, Mexico, and Thailand. Environmental risk analysis on this technique indicates that no adverse effects are expected on other organisms, humans, the environment or endangered species.