By Melissa Ann Melvin
Fogging, a common method used by most countries battling the harmful breeding of Aedes mosquitoes that transmit the dengue virus will soon be a thing of the past.
This is because researchers have discovered a bacterium that can stop the virus from growing inside the mosquito and being transmitted to people.
The Wolbachia bacterium is a natural bacterium present in up to 60 per cent of all the different species of insects around us, including some mosquitoes.
Researchers are experimenting with Wolbachia as a means of suppressing the breeding of Aedes mosquito population.
This will be done by releasing male mosquitoes with Wolbachia into the wild to mate with Aedes mosquitoes to reduce the ability of these mosquitoes to transmit disease.
Penang Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said that the state government have been having discussions with Monash University in Australia to look into researching on the newly discovered Wolbachia bacteria.
“Research into the Wolbachia bacteria is at a very green stage; it is something new that we are looking into and we are facing many challenges especially with funding.
“This is mainly because we need approval from the federal government as research such as this costs a lot and there are many stages to implementing it,” he said.
Dr Afif also said that the state government is constantly working with several local agencies and departments to identify new methods to combat this problem and they are now preparing for the implementation of a new device called the MyMat this year.
“The MyMat autocidal trap was specially designed by Medical Apparatus Supplies Sdn Bhd (MASSB) in collaboration with the Institute of Medical Research and the state health department as a pilot campaign to reduce Aedes breeding,” he said.
The MyMat works by trapping the mosquitoes and prevents them from further breeding and eventually kills it off.
Dr Afif said that the MyMat will be distributed to houses across Penang for free.
“With the implementation of this new technology we aim to eliminate as many breeding sites as possible especially in the hotspot areas.
“Preliminary testing has shown that the device is able to kill up to 80 per cent of mosquitoes in an area, and this number is quite promising,” he said.
Penang is a prime area for the breeding of these mosquitoes because it is a densely populated, developing city with many high rise buildings and congested residential areas.
“Penang is a fast developing state and because of this we have many empty lands, construction sites, factories, high rise apartments and congested residential areas that become hotspot breeding sites for Aedes mosquitoes,” Dr Afif said.
In Malaysia, dengue fever cases have been on the rise from 6,000 cases in 1995 to over 40,000 in 2015, and this number is continuously rising.
Since the start of 2016 there has already been a staggering 2,000 dengue cases nationwide and 10 deaths due to dengue reported in just Penang.
Sri Pinang Clinic Dr Ganesh Kootha Perumal whose practice is located in one of the hotspot areas, Bandar Sri Pinang said that in the past five months there has been a steady stream of patients suspected of dengue fever from the area.
“The main symptom of dengue is high fever, lethargy, persistent vomiting and tender or painful abdomen, however these symptoms are also similar to a bacterial infection which can sometimes cause people to ignore the symptoms assuming that it is just the flue,” Dr Ganesh said.
He also said that the best way to identify dengue fever is with a blood test as dengue fever can cause abnormal changes in blood tests that show lower levels of platelet count.
“With each confirmed case of dengue fever a report has to be sent in to the health department and if the cases are too frequent then the department will deploy pesticide fogging activities more regularly in the area,” he said.
Since the first major outbreak in 1973 the incidence of dengue has increased dramatically in recent years.
World Health Organization (WHO) in a recent survey estimated about 2.5 billion people is at risk for dengue worldwide.
In the fight against dengue it is clear that the problem needs to be addressed from the root which is by eliminating and preventing the breeding of these harmful mosquitoes.
Collaboration between the government and the community is vital as this is a problem that affects everyone and we should all play a part in reducing breeding areas in our surrounding environment.
Dr Afif also said that even with the implementation of this new MyMat devise, cooperation and collaboration with the community is vital for it to work properly.
“We need to create awareness and educate the community on this issue, we also need to teach them how to get rid of all the Aedes breeding grounds and maintain the hygiene of their surroundings,” he said.
With all these new discoveries of technologies and scientific advancements in the fight against the dengue virus and other similar viruses such as the Zika, Chikungunya and Malaria, what does the future hold for countries that are severely impacted by them?