Pacific Standard magazine examines efforts by researchers around the globe to biologically modify bugs to fight human diseases, such as dengue fever. “Biologically altering bugs isn’t entirely new; it’s been done for nearly half a century to protect crops. … It’s only recently, however, that scientists have begun experimenting with using this technology to combat human diseases,” the magazine writes, adding, “If they succeed, they could create an entirely new way of stopping not only dengue but other insect-borne scourges, such as yellow fever, West Nile virus, and malaria. And stopping these diseases has never been more urgent.”
Reuters reports on efforts to develop a vaccine for dengue fever, writing that “victory over … the intensely painful ‘breakbone fever’ … may be in sight.” Paris-based firm Sanofi “hopes for positive results in September from a key trial among children in Thailand that would set it on course to market a shot in 2015, which would prevent an estimated 100 million cases of dengue infection each year,” the news service writes, noting, “Of 20,000 annual deaths, many are of children.” According to Reuters, “Results from that clinical study, in what is known as the Phase IIb of the international standard three-stage process of assessment, are expected in the third quarter” and “will also be presented for scientific scrutiny at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Atlanta in November.”
“The costs of treating and coping with dengue fever in Puerto Rico total nearly $38 million a year, a new study,” published Wednesday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, finds, according to U.S. News & World Report. “It also said that every $1 spent on surveillance and prevention of the mosquito-borne disease could save $5 in illness-related costs,” the news service reports (5/2). “A team of researchers from Brandeis University says households in the U.S. territory pay almost half of that cost, with the government and insurance companies splitting the rest,” the Associated Press/Seattle Times notes (5/2).
Sri Lankan Health Officials Report Increase In Number Of Dengue Cases In First Quarter Compared To 2011
Sri Lankan health authorities “have reported a three-fold increase in the number of recorded dengue fever cases in the first quarter of this year,” IRIN reports. According to the national Epidemiology Unit, “9,317 dengue cases and 38 deaths were reported in the first three months of 2012, [compared with] 3,103 in the first quarter of 2011,” the news service writes, noting that more than half of the cases were recorded “in the country’s Western Province, where most of the island’s 20 million inhabitants live.” Intermittent rain, which allows stagnant water to collect and create mosquito breeding grounds, are expected to continue through April, and “[h]ealth officials agree that removing mosquito breeding sites is the most important step in mitigating risk,” according to IRIN. “In May 2010 the government launched a campaign to curb the spread of the disease,” and last year the number of cases dropped when compared to 2010, the news service notes (4/11).
“The incidence of dengue has grown dramatically around the world in recent decades,” the WHO writes in an updated fact sheet about dengue and severe dengue published on the organization’s website. According to the fact sheet, “Over 2.5 billion people — over 40 percent of the world’s population — are now at risk from dengue,” and “WHO currently estimates there may be 50-100 million dengue infections worldwide every year” (January 2012).
“Sri Lanka is making progress in the battle against mosquito-borne dengue fever, say health officials,” IRIN reports. According to the health ministry, 26,722 dengue cases were reported in 2011, down from 34,105 cases in 2010, and the number of dengue-related deaths dropped from 246 to 172, IRIN notes. Officials credit the establishment in May 2010 of an “anti-dengue Presidential Task Force — involving the ministries of health, defense, the environment, education, and local government, and headed by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa” — for the drop in cases, IRIN writes. The agencies worked together to launch widespread education campaigns, “clea[n] up areas suspected of being mosquito breeding grounds,” and impose fines for illegal dumping, according to the news agency (12/29).
“Philippine authorities are warning of the spread of diseases in cramped evacuation centers, days after flash floods hit the southern Philippines and claimed more than a thousand lives,” ABC/Asia Pacific News reports, noting that flooding also has affected the country’s northern provinces, displacing at least 50,000 people (Escalante, 12/20). Tropical Storm Washi “hit the main southern island of Mindanao over the weekend, bringing heavy rains, flash floods and overflowing rivers that swept whole coastal villages away,” forcing 44,000 people to evacuate the area, Agence France-Presse/Inquirer News writes (Celis, 12/21). Officials say hundreds of thousands of people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and the U.N. has stepped up its efforts in the area, the U.N. News Centre reports (12/20).
Inter Press Service interviews Maria Guadalupe Guzman, head of the Pedro Kouri Institute (IPK) Department of Virology and director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre for the Study of Dengue and its Vector, who is leading of a team of Cuban researchers working to develop a vaccine against dengue. In the interview, Guzman discusses Cuba’s contributions to the field of dengue research, the influence of climate change on the transmission of dengue, and differences in the four strains of the virus (Grogg, 11/15).
GM Mosquitoes Show Promise In Tackling Insect-Borne Diseases, Study Shows; Some Concerned Over Possible Unintended Consequences
“Genetically modified mosquitoes could prove effective in tackling dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases,” according to the results of a study by a U.K.-based scientific team published in the journal Nature Biotechnology on Sunday, BBC News reports (Black, 10/30). “In the 2010 trial, conducted on Grand Cayman island, researchers released 3.3 million male mosquitoes that had been genetically altered in such a way that they were born sterile, meaning they can’t have viable offspring,” which “triggered a population collapse,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “‘We saw an 80 percent reduction in the target area’ compared with the mosquito population in a similar zone where genetically tweaked males hadn’t been released, Luke Alphey, co-founder and chief scientist at Oxitec Ltd., the U.K. start-up behind the experiment, said in an interview,” according to the newspaper (Naik, 10/31).
Cambodia’s director of dengue control at the Ministry of Health, Ngan Chantha, said on Monday that from January to September of this year, 12,392 cases of dengue fever had been reported and 54 children have died of the disease, Xinhua reports. In all of 2010, 5,497 cases of dengue and 37 child deaths from the disease were recorded, according to the news agency.