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IU study could lead to prevention of mosquito-borne disease

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A new study out of Indiana University could help with the prevention of mosquito-borne disease.

The study, conducted by Professor Richard Hardy, assistant professor Irene Newton and Ph.D. candidate Tamanash Bhattacharya, looks at how a bacterium called Wolbachia prevents mosquitoes from transmitting diseases such as West Nile or Zika.

“It’s kind of like having a vaccine, but in a way its working at the level of a mosquito rather than at the level of the human,” Hardy said.

Wolbachia is a bacterium found inside 40 to 60 percent of all insects, but not inside mosquitoes. Newton and Hardy’s research, which studied fruit flies infected with the bacterium, looked closely at how the mechanism behind Wolbachia works. Newton and Hardy say that understanding could lead to methods to block disease transmission.

“We’re interested in exploring how this bacterium changes the way the insect works, and then whether the different aspects of the way the insect is changed has different effects on different viruses,” Hardy said.

What isn’t clear however is whether the bacterium will work for every virus mosquitoes transmit, or the long term effects of its use.

According to the CDC, North America is at risk for increased transmission of mosquito-borne disease due to environmental conditions. Last week, the Hamilton and Lake County health departments announced new cases of humans infected with West Nile, Indiana’s first for 2017.

If successful, Newton and Hardy’s research could help put an end to those infections

“I think it’s unlikely that we will eliminate all the diseases from the planet, but we can severely limit those that most affect human health, and that’s the goal,” Newton said.

Currently, Wolbachia infected mosquitos are being used in Florida to help combat the Zika virus.