Monday, April 15, 2024
Homelatin americaMosquitos, feared for spreading dengue, now being bred to fight the disease

Mosquitos, feared for spreading dengue, now being bred to fight the disease

For decades, preventing dengue fever in Honduras has meant teaching people to fear mosquitoes and avoid their bites. Now, Hondurans are being educated about a potentially more effective way to control the disease — and it goes against everything they’ve learned.

Which explains why a dozen people cheered last month as Tegucigalpa resident Hector Enriquez held a glass jar filled with mosquitoes above his head, and then freed the buzzing insects into the air. Enriquez, a 52-year-old mason, had volunteered to help publicize a plan to suppress dengue by releasing millions of special mosquitoes in the Honduran capital.

The mosquitoes Enriquez unleashed in his El Manchen neighborhood — an area rife with dengue — were bred by scientists to carry bacteria called Wolbachia that interrupt transmission of the disease. When these mosquitoes reproduce, they pass the bacteria to their offspring, reducing future outbreaks.

Once workers confirm that the new mosquitoes carry Wolbachia, their eggs are dried and filled into pill-like capsules to be sent off to release sites.

The Doctors Without Borders team in Honduras recently went door-to-door in a hilly neighborhood of Tegucigalpa to enlist residents’ help in incubating mosquito eggs bred in the Medellin factory.

At half a dozen houses, they received permission to hang from tree branches glass jars containing water and a mosquito egg-filled capsule. After about 10 days, the mosquitoes would hatch and fly off.

That same day, a dozen young workers from Doctors Without Borders fanned out across Northern Tegucigalpa on motorcycles carrying jars of the already hatched dengue-fighting mosquitoes and, at designated sites, released thousands of them into the breeze.

Lourdes Betancourt, 63, a volunteer with the Doctors Without Borders team, encourages her neighbors to let the “good mosquitoes” grow in their yards.

“They are going to bite you, but you won’t get dengue,” she said.

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