Malaysia to use mosquitoes to control dengue fever

Government authorities in Malaysia announced on October 11 that the country could be the first in Asia to introduce genetically altered mosquitoes into the wild in an attempt to fight dengue fever.

Under the plan, Malaysian scientists would release modified male mosquitoes into the environment that would then mate with wild mosquitoes, producing offspring that live shorter lives, according to the Associated Press. This would reduce the overall mosquito population, and because mosquitoes transfer dengue to humans, reduce the number of dengue cases.

Laboratory trials have gone well so far, and Malaysian scientists and policy-makers are optimistic.

“It is a pilot project, and hopefully it will work,” Prime Minister Najib Razak told reports at a World Health Organization meeting in Malaysia, according to the Associated Press.

Najib noted that other efforts to reduce the mosquito population have failed. The government has urged Malaysians to keep neighborhoods clean and free of standing water. Najib now says it is time for “innovative” solutions to be tried.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 genetically altered mosquitoes are planned to be released in two areas, a official from the health ministry told the Associated Press. The plan, however, cannot proceed until cabinet level approval has officially been given.

Some Malaysian environmentalists are concerned that introducing the new mosquitoes could have unintended consequences.

WHO regional director Shin Young-soon applauded Malaysia’s effort to fight the increase in dengue fever, but cautioned that great care must be taken in introducing an entirely new species into the environment, The Star reported.

In Malaysia, the number of dengue deaths so far this year has reached 117, up 65 percent from the same time last year. Dengue infections are up 35 percent from last year, reaching 37,000 cases.