Parliament: NEA to conduct field study on Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes

Wolbachia being transferred to Aedes mosquitoes at Australia's Monash University. PHOTO: ELIMINATE DENGUE

SINGAPORE - A field study will be conducted at the end of this year to assess if a special type of mosquito would be effective in fighting dengue.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli announced on Tuesday (April 12) that the National Environment Agency (NEA) will conduct a small-scale field study to release male Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the open environment.

Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacteria which can be found in over 60 per cent of insect species including butterflies and dragonflies, but not in dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

When male Aedes mosquitoes are infected with Wolbachia, they mate with wild female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to produce eggs which do not hatch. This could help to suppress the wild mosquito population in the long run.

Speaking at the debate on his ministry's budget, Mr Masagos said that the Government is not embarking on the study "lightly".

He added: "We have studied this for years and have taken all steps to ensure that public health and safety will not be compromised."

The study aims to understand the behaviour of Wolbachia-Aedes in the built-up environment. It will assess how long these mosquitoes can live in the wild, and their flight range.

Only male mosquitoes which do not bite will be released, and the data from this study will help support the design of a subsequent suppression trial.

More details will be released at a later date.

The authorities had earlier warned that the number of dengue cases in 2016 may exceed 30,000 - higher than the record in 2013 when 22,170 cases were reported, unless immediate measures are taken to suppress the Aedes mosquito population.

Between January and March 2016, a total of 6,338 dengue cases were reported. This is 182 per cent higher compared to the same period in 2015, when 2,251 cases were reported, according to the NEA.

The authorities said the high number of dengue cases expected this year is due to various factors, including warmer temperatures and a switch in the predominant dengue virus serotype.

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