Jakarta to release Wolbachia mosquitoes in battle against dengue

Image from Jakarta Post/ANN

JAKARTA (Jakarta Post/ANN): The Jakarta administration plans to release lab-bred mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia bacteria in an effort to curb the dengue outbreak in the city.

Jakarta Health Agency head Ani Ruspitawati said authorities were preparing to release the modified mosquitoes as part of a pilot project in Kembangan district, West Jakarta.

"We have not started the project yet. We're still in the preparatory process. If everything's ready, including the public, we will release the mosquitoes," Ani said on Sunday, as reported by Tempo.co.

She assured that releasing the mosquitoes with Wolbachia was a new tool to combat dengue in addition to the decades-old 3M campaign of Menguras, Menutup, Mendaur Ulang (draining, covering and recycling water sources) to eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds.

Wolbachia, which was first identified by United States scientists Marshall Hertig and S. Burt Wolbach in the 1920s and 1930s, is a bacterium that naturally exists in in 60 percent of insect species but not in Aedes aegypti, the main transmitter of dengue and several other viruses.

When injected into mosquitoes, Wolbachia competes with viruses like dengue inside mosquitoes and makes it harder for the microorganisms to reproduce, thus reducing the insects’ ability to transmit them to humans.

When male mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia mate with females without Wolbachia, the female mosquitoes lays eggs that do not hatch. When both the male and female mosquitoes carry Wolbachia, their offspring also carry Wolbachia.

When only the female mosquito carries Wolbachia, the offspring will, too. A study in Yogyakarta discovered that releasing Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes reduced dengue cases by as much as 77 per cent and hospitalizations for the disease by up to 86 percent.

Stricter rules

In 2007, the Jakarta administration issued a regulation to sanction residents who either did not implement the 3M campaign or allowed their houses to host mosquito breeding grounds.

The regulation stipulates that residents can be fined up to Rp 50 million (US$3,067) or be given a two- month prison sentence if health authorities find mosquito larvae at their homes.

While the regulation’s enforcement has been lax, the East Jakarta Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) recently said authorities were planning to impose sanctions more seriously to curb the local spread of dengue fever.

Jakarta has seen an exponential spike in dengue fever cases this year as a warmer rainy season accelerates outbreaks across the archipelago.

From Jan. 1 to May 17, the city recorded 7,142 cases of dengue fever and 15 related fatalities.

Last month alone, Jakarta detected 2,900 incidences of dengue fever. Health authorities said the figure had been steadily going down, however. The plan to impose a hefty fine on residents whose homes are found to host mosquito larvae has garnered widespread criticism from the public as well as city councilors.

Acting Jakarta governor Heru Budi Hartono has refuted that authorities were seriously planning to impose sanctions, however, insisting the regulation would continue to serve as a mere guideline.

"The regulation merely serves as advice for the public to also participate in curbing the spread of dengue fever. It's the responsibility of every resident to make sure they have a healthy environment to live in," he said. - Jakarta Post/ANN

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