Mosquito radiation sterilization aims to control prevalent arboviruses

19 November 2019

Article: 53/4606

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that a technique which sterilizes male mosquitoes using radiation will soon be tested as part of global efforts to control prevalent arboviruses such as chikungunya, dengue, and Zika.

The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) is a form of insect birth control, which involves rearing large quantities of sterilized male mosquitoes and releasing them into the wild to mate with females. As they do not produce any offspring, the insect population declines over time.

The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the WHO have developed a guidance document for countries that have expressed interest in testing the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for Aedes mosquitoes.

In recent decades, the incidence of dengue has increased dramatically due to environmental changes, unregulated urbanisation, transport and travel and insufficient sustainable vector control tools and their application. 

Dengue outbreaks are currently occurring in several countries, notably on the Indian sub-continent. Bangladesh is facing the worst outbreak of dengue since its first recorded epidemic in 2000, and is one of the countries to express interest in the SIT.

Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes such as malaria, dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever account for about 17% of all infectious diseases globally, claiming more than 700,000 lives each year. The 2015 outbreak of Zika in Brazil was linked to an increase in the number of babies being born with microcephaly.

The SIT was first developed by the US Department of Agriculture and has been used successfully to target insect pests that attack crops and livestock, such as the Mediterranean fruit and the New World screwworm flies.

Source: WHO, 14 November 2019