Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
'Miraculous' mosquito hack cuts dengue by 77% (bbc.co.uk)
296 points by Zenst 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

Me before reading the article: is it wolbachia?

Me after reading the article: it's wolbachia.

We've been using these here in Singapore for a while now (looking at it since about 2016 [0]), and it's not like it was a secret [1], hell even the BBC has reported on wolbachia before (by the same James Gallagher!) [2], so it's a bit surprising that it is presented in this BBC article as something "miraculous" and new.

What's curious to me is that the information presented in the BBC articles is slightly different from what has been reported here in Singapore. The BBC articles say that the wolbachia infection is passed on. Our reporting has been that male mosquitos infected with wolbachia that mate with females will not produce viable eggs, but otherwise, infected females will pass the wolbachia infection on. I wonder what the details are.

[0] https://www.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/resources/researc...

[1] https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/wolbachia-mos...

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/health-50487724

They’re quoting one of the researchers after a large trial confirms the promising earlier studies that older coverage was based on. Given the impact this has on human lives, for hundreds of millions of people, that doesn’t seem unreasonable — especially because this isn’t especially hard or expensive to deploy.

The CDC says “When male Ae. aegypti mosquitoes with Wolbachia mate with wild female mosquitoes that do not have Wolbachia, the eggs will not hatch.”[1]


its for the clicks. you would think that at least they would say 'hey we are cool, we reported on this before, you should trust us more' but no i think 'hey new discovery, you are living in the future now, we have it first, click here' seems to sell more.

Counterpoint: I read this article and the 2019 BBC piece, this one reports the result of a large scale study which has very positive results. Vs the 2019 article which describes a promising technique with relatively smaller trials.

Even lay people who know Wolbachia is promising will find the result interesting.

Also the “miraculous” in the headline comes from a a researcher who described Wolbachia as naturally miraculous. I’d say that makes it fair game for a headline writer.

The newer article should have mentioned that this technique has been trialled before and provided some context about why this trial is important, eg it was a 3 year RCT, and the evidence it presents is of a higher standard, etc. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that this result is useful and worth a new report — and in fact the “explore further” link on the page on the topic of Mosquitoes links to previous stories on the topic, including the story the previous commenter mentioned.

Science and health journalism (other than COVID) isn’t always as sexy as other areas of journalism, I think we should be a little wary of crying “clickbait” for everything. A victory over dengue is worth shouting about — it’s a nasty disease that causes a lot of suffering.

For anyone unfamiliar with dengue, among its more notorious aspects is that repeated infections over a victim’s lifetime can make its impact worse.


Very happy to hear this news. Selfishly, with a warming climate the impact of the virus is likely to spread, and generally the more tropical diseases we can wipe out the better.

> For anyone unfamiliar with dengue, among its more notorious aspects is that repeated infections over a victim’s lifetime can make its impact worse.

One really minor nitpick, but I think it's different strains of dengue that get you: get infected by one, and you get resistance for that strain, but also become more susceptible to develop complications or die from a separate strain.

I was lucky enough to get the non-hemorrhaging type. But now if I get the hemorrhaging type it will be extra bad. So that's lame.

i had it pretty heavy, all the symptoms as by the book, but two independent labs showed that i didn't have dengue. so now i do not know if i had it or something different with very similar symptoms

afaik, Chikungunya and Zika can be very similar to Dengue.

False negatives are common when testing on the first week of symptoms. But after 1-2 weeks serology testing is accurate. My 1st exam was negative and the 2nd (after 2 weeks) was positive. There are other viruses with symptoms similar to Dengue like Zika and Chikungunya.

I thought that the hemorrhaging wasn't necessarily related to a strain, but _is_ a possible heavier outcome regardless of the order you get them in?

Very relevant nitpicking! Also makes vaccination more tricky as it should ideally cover all strains to prevent the same effect.

My understanding is that the current vaccine helps against all strains, but also makes the infection worse if you do still happen to catch Dengue (similar to a previous infection.) As a result this risk is managed by only giving the current vaccine to people who have already had Dengue atleast once

To clarify a bit, if you've already had dengue once, the vaccine is recommended since it makes you less likely to catch the other strains of dengue and it reduces the odds of severe complications.

However, if you've never had dengue, the vaccine is not recommended since it increases the odds of complications.

This rather odd effect is known as antibody-dependent enhancement: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antibody-dependent_enhancement

I had dengue once and got vaccinated afterward, since I live in a dengue hotspot. However, not many do, the cost and complexity (~$300 for 3 shots over 18 months, generally not covered by insurance) also dissuades many.

Hiya - I don't live in a dengue hotspot country but have had it (grandparent lives in a tropical country) and would like to get Dengvaxia to make it a bit less risky to go back... do you know if your country would allow flying in to get the vaccine? May I ask which country it is?


I'm pretty sure you can just go up to a pharmacy here in Costa Rica and get it for about 140$ - if you want I can confirm for you


Hi yes please that would be amazing! Some of my family is in the US so it wouldn't be too hard to drop by on the way there :)

You want to try Farmacias Sucre out here for vaccines (I think they were the only ones I could find who did the yellow fever one), although maybe the best way to take it would be seeing a doctor to get a prescription after checking your antibody levels. Most pharmacies here have a general practitioner in there who maybe even owns the place for consultation... just look for the person in the white jacket. Chances are their English is fine. Also looks like Clinica Biblica has it for only about 88$, they're alright:


Fantastic, thank you!

What happens if one gets Dengue for the first time after only one dose of Dengvaxia.. not the complete scheme? Will it be as bad (complications-wise) as having the complete vaccination scheme?

You should absolutely *avoid* using this vaccine _unless_ you have been previously (and provably) infected by one of the strains of dengue. Unless you want to actually *increase* your risk of doing a hemorrhagic form. Seriously don't do it, people have died over it.

What happens in the scenario in which someone hypothetically got the first dose but didn't finish the vaccination scheme?

This fact makes the stat from the article all the more alarming.

> In 1970, only nine countries had faced severe dengue outbreaks, now there are up to 400 million infections a year.

It amazes me to think of how relatively small the team that worked on this was in relation to the outsized benefit to humanity.

That's public heath in a nutshell.

as opposed to?

Far more people working on male pattern baldness cures

I live in the tropics, I've gotten dengue before. Can confirm that it feels like getting run over by a bus. I actually have more fear about getting it again than I do around coronavirus.

The funny thing is that me and my roommate at the time just thought we had really bad achy flus. I think we probably should have gone to the hospital in retrospect.

I stayed the whole day in bed without eating anything in the 1st day. I ate in the whole week what I used to eat in a day. In retrospective, I learned to eat less and, in the long term, I got healthier due to it.

Yes probably the best news I've read today. A friend got sick of it sometime back and it was one of the most harrowing experience of his life. The amount of pain is just indescribable. He had blood coming out of his gums and whatnot. Anything to eradicate this and malaria is just amazing news.

This is extremely good news. I watched my brother spend a week and a half in a hospital in a small Ecuadorian village due to a dengue infection. His fever was dangerously high for days and then his platet counts dropped so low that he was at significant risk of internal bleeding.

The vaccine causes Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE) as well as natural infection [0], so the situation as a whole is not very good.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dengue_vaccine#CYD-TDV_(Dengva...

This is weird to read as if it's a sudden new discovery, I had the impression wolbachia was well established as part of the toolkit.

Thorough history of mosquito control techniques and where we stand today, including some comparisons of pros / cons / applicability:


This exact technique (putting wolbachia in mosquitoes to combat dengue fever) was also covered in the excellent book “I Contain Multitudes.” Highly recommended — super well written, deeply researched and interesting.

Any time I read "kills 99% of germs" or "cuts by 77%" I think, nice, that's some strong selective pressure to help us evolve more resistant <insert things that annoy Homo sapiens>. Particularly bad in agriculture where there pests have evolved resistance multiple times.

That said, eliminating Polio, etc. are examples of where things really worked out, so it can happen, YRMV.

As someone said: every time you kill a spider you're selecting for faster, sneakier spiders.

And releasing predation pressure on mosquitoes.

I like to think the ones that are left prefer to remain unseen. And to me those are the best kind of spiders.

The wolbachia can evolve too. Even an arms race between them is probably better than status quo.

Polio is close to eliminated, but is still out there. There were shenanigans with the funding in the last year or two and that has not been helpful.

Doesn't it depend on what "99%" means? If a cleaning agent will kill 100% of 99% species of bacteria then there'll be nothing left except the bacteria that's already resistant to the agent and nothing will evolve new resistance. On the other hand, if it kills 99% of 100% of species of bacteria then you're right, the resistant ones will remain and could evolve in to a fully resistant species.

It doesn’t matter because bacteria species are always fighting each other. So even if in your 99%, you kill 100% of a specific species, the 1% species left, whatever they are, have now plenty of free environment to proliferate.

Yes it can be a good outcome if the resistant ones are not pathogens but the thing is that you don’t know and probabilities are that the pathogens / total won’t change.

I think you mean, “it does matter”, since you describe different outcomes. Even in the case where those were pathogens, they may subsequently lose the competitive pressure to be good at fighting. Then when they re-encounter a robust environment, they may be totally annihilated. In certain types of bio research, we now have to protect the species from humans, rather than the reverse, since they have been without that competitive pressure for so long and become optimized instead for growth and production.

In related news, we should start to see results from the genetically modified mosquitoes released in the Florida Keys.


> How safe is this technology?

> It’s extremely safe. The EPA has done its due diligence and tested many of the potential side effects of this technology. The real question here is: What are the existing control mechanisms that are in place? This mosquito has been controlled using many different broad-spectrum insecticides in Florida, including pyrethroids that also kill honeybees, ladybugs, dragonflies and other insects. Pictures show aerial spraying of insecticides from airplanes over neighborhoods in Florida during the Zika virus outbreak in 2016. By comparison, Oxitec’s technology is extremely safe. It’s only going to target A. aegypti, and you’re using the mosquito to control the mosquito.

Wow, hell of a deflection. I am genuinely curious about the biotech company's perspective on the potential risks of what they're doing, and all they can say is that other methods have risks as well?

really looking forward to this

Grateful to Bill and Melinda Gates for funding this.

Are you sure they fund this particular team?

And especially to Windows purchasers who funded Bill and Melinda!

I feel selfish for trying to get a refund for all those Microsoft licenses I paid for buying PCs that I never used.

You can get the refund and donate directly to their foundation.[1] But be mindful of what a charity can be used for.[2]

[1] https://www.gatesfoundation.org/philanthropypartners/donate

[2] https://www.economica.id/2021/05/30/there-is-no-such-thing-a...

The best/worst that economica article seems to be able to come up with is a 'lack of democracy'.

Did you succeed? Would you like to donate it to me instead please?

Wow! I was involved in creating an app for the mosquito people in the field and the researchers for this project many years ago. So happy it's finally showing awesome results!

Another well deserved entry in the 'Stop Using The Word "Hack" To Describe Medical Research Challenge 2021'.

Looks like it’s also an interesting area of research for malaria control.

Both diseases are transmitted by mosquito bites. Malaria is a parasite while dengue is a virus. There seem to be twice as many dengue infection a year than malaria cases, but 10x more death from malaria than from dengue.

The fact that the « hack » transmits through generation is pretty amazing too


Wolbachia. That name rings an ominous bell [1]


well i guess this is fantastic to avoid the argument against eradicating all mosquitos as a whole since they may be part of a food chain or something. It just prevents the disease from transmitting!

I haven't seen serious arguments for eradicating all mosquitoes, but just the species that spreads it, which is a small portion of the total mosquito population and doesn't occupy a unique ecological niche.

Earnest question: what's the bigger ecological change, infecting all these mosquitoes (can they spread it to other species? We've seen evidence of mosquitoes hybridizing in the wild), or just kill them outright?

We have very few (if any) species-specific pesticides or larvicides. We've been trying the "What if we just kill them outright?" approach to mosquito control (along with 'What if we can hide under nets', 'What if we trick them into biting something else first?', etc.) fairly extensively.

I don’t think anyone’s arguing we should eradicate all mosquitos, just the ones that carry human diseases (which IIRC are in many cases non-native species).

On the one hand we don't have data still for how eradicating mosquitoes would disturb the ecosystem, there are just too many complex interactions. There are probably plenty of species specializing on preying on mosquitoes out there that we don't know of.

However currently humanity is killing off a lot of insects without targeting a specific species, so potentially disturbing mosquito based ecosystems doesn't seem terrible in comparison.

I agree- as pestilent as mosquitoes are to humans, there's no denying that they represent significant insect biomass, to be consumed by multiple other species - honestly, with everything else happening to the climate, birds and bats are going to have a hard enough time as it is. That's the real beauty of this approach- introducing wolbachia doesn't seem to have any effect on mosquito population, but rather on the population of dengue-carrying mosquitoes.

The dengue virus is not nearly as important to local ecology, as far as I am aware. Theres such an extreme litany of viruses, most of which have no measurable impact on human existence, that the reduction or even elimination of one species (if that's the right term- pendants I apologise) should be without negative consequence.

> Wolbachia are also spectacularly manipulative and can alter the fertility of their hosts to ensure they are passed on to the next generation of mosquitoes.

is this a nice way of saying "the end result is more mosquitoes, but without dengue" ?

It means the infected ones could prevail in their population without the need to artificially grow and release more of them.

All the usual limiting factors are still there, so no, there won't be much more of them.

Except if these bacteria give some yet unknown benefits to this species of mosquitos.

ah, makes sense, thank you.

Does dengue have reservoirs that are not human?

Please change title to: 1 Weird Trick Mosquitos Hate

Alternatively: "Mosquitos hate this trick"

Thank you SO much for this! Was really the chuckle I needed today.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact