HOPES that dengue fever may one day be eradicated have been raised by scientists who have discovered how to stop mosquitoes carrying the disease.
Groundbreaking experiments in Queensland have found a common insect bacteria - wMel Wolbachia - can dramatically reduce the presence of dengue fever in mosquitoes.
If the number of mosquitoes carrying dengue can be cut, far fewer people could end up with the disease, which infects about 50 million people worldwide each year.
Infected mosquitoes then spread the disease by biting other humans, who develop severe flu-like symptoms.
Australian scientists have taken on the challenge and begun trials to see if infecting the mosquito breed that spreads the disease, known as A.aegypti, with the Wolbachia bacteria can stop them developing and spreading dengue fever.
Armed with the bacteria, the laboratory mosquito colony was fed dengue-infected blood meal.
Scientists Wednesday reported promising results from tests on a new way of assailing dengue fever by stealthily weakening populations of mosquitoes carrying the virus which causes the deadly disease.
Dengue affects between 50 and 100 million people in the tropics and subtropics each year, causing fever, muscle and joint ache as well as potentially fatal dengue haemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.
The strain of Wolbachia they used was somewhat virulent and knocked out the mosquitoes before they had the chance of spreading into the wild mosquito population.
Introduced into the mosquito, the germ prevented the insect from becoming infected by the dengue virus.
It lives inside cells and is maternally inherited, thus raising the possibility that after a few generations, the introduced dengue-free mosquitoes eventually outnumber dengue-carrying counterparts.
The researchers today announced the results of their experiment, in which they infected mosquitoes with a bacterium called Wolbachia, preventing the mosquito from contracting dengue fever.
Once the mosquito is protected from dengue fever, it is not able to be passed on to humans.
Dengue fever is only transmittable by mosquitoes, and can leave those infected bedbound for weeks with high fevers, headaches, muscle aches and rashes.
Professor Scott O'Neill, Dean of the Faculty of Science at Monash University, said the dengue fever virus was carried by a very specific mosquito, which represented approximately 30 per cent of the mosquito population.