Mosquito Replacement Plan

11/01/2023
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    A man releases laboratory-bred mosquitos infected with Wolbachia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on August 24, 2023. (AP/Elmer Martinez)
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    Lourdes Betancourt prepares a jar containing mosquito eggs. It will hang from a tree in Tegucigalpa. (AP/Elmer Martinez)
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    A Doctors Without Borders worker releases mosquitos in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (AP/Elmer Martinez)
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    Coordinator Marlene Salazar observes mosquitos kept in a cube-shaped cage at the World Mosquito Program’s factory in Medellin, Colombia. (AP/Jaime Saldarriaga)
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    A lab technician uses a brush to collect dried mosquito eggs inside the World Mosquito Program’s factory in Medellin, Colombia. The factory breeds 30 million mosquitos per week. All are infected with Wolbachia. (AP/Jaime Saldarriaga)
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    Marlene Salazar holds a jar of mosquito larvae floating in water. (AP/Jaime Saldarriaga)
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    A lab technician holds a male mosquito in the World Mosquito Program’s factory in Medellin, Colombia. (AP/Jaime Saldarriaga)
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For decades, preventing dengue fever in Honduras meant teaching people to fear mosquitos and avoid their bites. Now Hondurans are learning a different way to control the disease.

Hector Enriquez displays a glass jar filled with the buzzy biters. His neighbors cheer. He frees the insects, which fly into the air.

Enriquez is promoting a new dengue-defeating plan. It involves releasing millions of mosquitos in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

The mosquitos are part of a decade-old World Mosquito Program project. Released mosquitos like Enriquez’s carry bacteria called Wolbachia.

Mosquitos with Wolbachia don’t spread dengue—or other related diseases, including yellow fever. What’s more, infected females pass Wolbachia to their offspring. So little skeeters may eventually “replace” an entire mosquito population with one carrying the virus-blocking bacteria.

Around 400 million people worldwide get dengue each year. Usual methods of preventing mosquito-borne sickness—including poison, nets, and vaccines—haven’t worked well against dengue infection.

Mosquito researcher Conor McMeniman calls dengue similar to “the worst case of influenza you can imagine.” Outbreaks can overwhelm health systems. They often force people to miss work or school.

Some people consider disease—and disease-carrying creatures—scary. But in every situation, Jesus wants us to trust Him because “by Him all things were created” and He reigns supreme over insects, illness, and even science itself. (Colossians 1:16-17)

In Honduras, 10,000 people contract dengue each year. Doctors Without Borders partners with the World Mosquito Program. They’re releasing millions of mosquitos carrying Wolbachia in the country.

Scott O’Neill founded the program. His team figured out how to transfer the bacteria into mosquito embryos using tiny glass needles.

The program’s mosquito-releasing strategy requires thinking differently about mosquitos, says disease expert Oliver Brady.

“Everything in the past has been about killing mosquitos, or at the very least, preventing mosquitos from biting humans,” Brady says.

Results from the World Mosquito Program’s trials are promising. A trial in Indonesia showed a 76% drop in reported dengue cases after researchers unleashed Wolbachia-infected mosquitos.

Still, questions remain about how well and how long the strategy will work. The cost is concerning too. Tegucigalpa’s three-year trial will cost nearly $1 million.

A team recently went door-to-door in a hilly Tegucigalpa neighborhood, enlisting volunteers to hang jars from trees. The vessels contained water and mosquito eggs. After about 10 days, the mosquito eggs hatch, pupate, mature, and fly off.

Volunteer Lourdes Betancourt was wary of the new plan at first. She’s had dengue several times. Now she encourages her neighbors to let the “good mosquitos” grow in their yards.

“I tell people not to be afraid,” Betancourt says. “To have trust.”

Why? Sometimes a shift in thinking—like using mosquitos to fight a mosquito-borne illness—helps solve problems. Remember that God who redeems uses all things for good in His timing.

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