Sunday, February 25, 2024 | 05:49 WIB

Wolbachia technique lowers dengue fever incidence by 77%

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Jakarta, IO – As a tropical country, Indonesia is one of the regions endemic to dengue fever. Formerly known as the “dengue bloody fever” (demam berdarah dengue–DBD), the disease was a scourge feared by our parents as its highest death toll occurs among children 0-14 years old. Dengue fever is caused by an infection of the dengue virus, which in turn is transferred by the disease vectors Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos. 

In order to reduce the level of dengue fever incidence, our Ministry of Health is implementing the initiative to use Wolbachia technique to reduce mosquito breeding rate. The success of the technique is proven in 13 different countries: Australia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Laos, Vietnam, Kiribati, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Mexico. 

In Indonesia, experts from the Gadjah Mada University (UGM) Yogyakarta and the World Mosquito Program (WMP) have been researching the efficacy of this method since 2011. The first phase of the testing was done in the laboratory. It is meant to prove the safety and viability of the Wolbachia technique. 

After sufficient proof was obtained, the research continued to the second phase by releasing small numbers of mosquitoes in two villages each in Sleman and Bantul, Special Region of Yogyakarta, respectively. This release was performed ethically, with full knowledge and consent of the relevant villagers. The third phase of the test, which comprised of massive release of Wolbachia mosquitoes, was performed in 2016. 

Blocking the Virus’ Replication 

“Wolbachia is naturally found in more than 50% of all insects. It is a symbiont which causes no negative impact to their host. The risk analysis performed by 20 independent scientists in Indonesia concludes that the risk of negative impact to either humans or the environment from the method is negligible,” reported dr. Riris Andono “Dono” Ahmad, MPH, Ph.D, in the “Wolbachia, A New Method to Fight Against the Dengue” talk show held on Tuesday (21/11/2023). 

The Wolbachia technique is a “substitution” method, in which both male and female mosquitoes that host the Wolbachia bacteria are released to their natural population. They will mate with the local mosquitoes and produce children who host Wolbachia, and in turn breed more Wolbachia hosts until all the mosquito population contains the Wolbachia “vaccine” in time. 

“What we need to remember is that this technique obstructs the development and multiplication of the dengue virus in the mosquitoes, not in human bodies,” dr. Dono explained. 

He emphasizes that the Wolbachia bacteria’s role is to block the replication of the dengue virus in the mosquito’s body. The mosquito whose body contains the bacteria will no longer be able to infect a healthy person, even though they previously stung a person infected with the dengue virus. Another advantage is that the Wolbachia bacteria attaches itself into mosquito egg cells. In other words, it will automatically be inherited by the next generation of mosquitoes. Furthermore, Wolbachia protection against dengue infection is sustainable. 

“The technology lowers the incidence of dengue fever by 77%, reduces the necessity of hospitalization by 86%, and reduces the necessity of fogging by 83%. However, because it is very expensive, it would be more effective if we implement the technology in densely populated regions with a high incidence of dengue fever. The communities whose regions use this technology have informed us that their lives are now much more peaceful because there is no longer a concern that they might catch dengue fever,” dr. Dono said. 

Read: A Supportive Community is Important for the Health and Wellness Journey of Indonesian Consumers

In his capacity as the Director of the Center for Tropical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Public Health and Nursing (FKKMK) UGM, dr. Dono declares that the people’s concern that Wolbachia host mosquitoes might mutate is a misperception that must be set straight: “Mutation is a natural mechanism used by living creatures to adapt to their environment. However, the speed of mutation differs among different creatures. In the case of Wolbachia host mosquitoes, experts found that the technology is extremely stable: the mutation rate will be very small for the next 30 years. It is comparable to the mutation of eye color among Westerners, which started 8,000 years ago and remains at a safe rate up to now. This is exactly the opposite of the Covid-19 virus mutation rate, which is extremely rapid with an equally extreme levels of infection and death,” he said. 

Finally, dr. Dono admits that constant education concerning the new technology is necessary to ensure that the people become adequately informed, “We hope that by using this technology, one day Indonesia will no longer be a country endemic to the dengue fever, so that its people can become healthier and more productive.” (est)

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