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Mosquitoes Released In Malaysia To Help Fight Dengue Fever

January 26, 2011

There is a new player in the fight against dengue fever in Malaysia, 6,000 of them actually.

Malaysia released about 6,000 genetically modified mosquitoes into a forest in the first experiment of its kind in Asia aimed at curbing dengue fever, officials said Wednesday to AP.

The field test is meant to pave the way for the use of genetically engineered Aedes aegypti male mosquitoes to mate with females and produce no offspring or ones with shorter lives, hopefully curtailing the mosquito population. Only female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread dengue fever, which killed 134 people in Malaysia last year.

The plan has sparked criticism by some Malaysian environmentalists, who fear it might have unforeseen consequences, such as the inadvertent creation of uncontrollable mutated mosquitoes. Government authorities have tried to allay the concerns by saying they are conducting small-scale research and will not rush into any widespread release of mosquitoes.

The Malaysian government-run Institute for Medical Research said it released about 6,000 sterile male lab mosquitoes in an uninhabited forest area in eastern Malaysia on Dec. 21. Another 6,000 wild male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were also placed in the area for scientific comparison, it said in a statement.

The institute provided few details of the experiment, but said it was “successfully” concluded Jan. 5, and that all the mosquitoes were killed with insecticide. It was the first such trial in Asia, an official for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements.

A similar trial in the Cayman Islands last year “” the first time genetically modified mosquitoes have been set loose in the wild after years of laboratory experiments and hypothetical calculations “” resulted in a dramatic drop in the mosquito population in a small area studied by researchers.

Genetically altered sterile male mosquitoes were also set loose by scientists in a 40-acre region between May and October last year in the Cayman islands. By August, mosquito numbers in that area dropped by 80 percent compared with a neighboring area where no sterile mosquitoes were released.

Duane Gubler, a professor specializing in infectious diseases at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School who was not involved with the research, said the plan is likely to be effective in fighting dengue if it is combined with other biological control methods. “We need new tools. Nothing we’ve done in the past 40 years has had an impact” on dengue, Gubler told the AP.

Dengue fever is common in Asia and Latin America. Symptoms include high fever, joint pains and nausea, but in severe cases, it can lead to internal bleeding, circulatory shutdown and death. There is no known cure or vaccine.

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