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Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

The World Health Organization has warned that the mosquito-borne virus, which has afflicted people in as many as 70 countries, was “highly likely” to spread across Asia.

Thailand has reported as many as 350 cases of Zika including 25 cases of pregnant women since the start of this year and confirmed two cases of Zika-borne microcephaly last month. Microcephaly is a severe birth defect linked to the Zika virus in which children are born with unusually small head, causing poor brain development.

In Singapore, medical experts have said the country is extremely vulnerable to Zika virus. The National Environment Agency (NEA) of Singapore announced that nearly 12,000 dengue cases have been reported this year so far which have already claimed seven lives. NEA released around 3,000 Wolbachia-infected male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes last month to conduct the first field study aimed at curbing the population of the disease-transmitting mosquito species. This study is being conducted by a team of more than 30 experts who have been studying the Wolbachia in the laboratory of NEA’s Environmental Health Institute.

The technology uses a naturally occurring bacterium called Wolbachia that already infects 60 percent of insects around the world, from butterflies to wasps and ladybugs. Like the beneficial bacteria that colonize the human gut, Wolbachia does not harm the insects it inhabits; instead it blocks the proliferation of harmful viruses, like dengue.

The male mosquitoes are artificially infected with Wolbachia bacteria and when these mosquitoes mate with uninfected females they will produce eggs with very low hatch rate. Experts believe that over time, this could lead to a fall in the Aedes Aegypti population, which is responsible for transmitting deadly virus that cause dengue, chikungunya, and zika. (Floro Mercene)