World / Science & Health

Scientists race to stop world's fastest spreading tropical disease

by Benjamin Snyder

Bloomberg

Mosquitoes are much more than a bloodsucking annoyance. For close to half of the world, they represent disease and death.

In some tropical regions, they transmit a powerful virus called dengue that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. Dengue is the world’s fastest-spreading tropical illness, and with accelerating climate change, is appearing in nontropical areas once free from it, including the southern U.S. By 2080, scientists predict the sickness could affect 2 billion people worldwide.

That’s where Scott O’Neill, the founder of The World Mosquito Project, comes in.

In the second installment of Moonshot, a Bloomberg Originals series, we look at the nonprofit that aims to eliminate dengue. O’Neill and his colleagues plan to genetically alter the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the primary vector for infecting humans with it.

After modifying the insects with a bacteria called Wolbachia, which blocks transmission of the disease to humans, the team releases them out into the world. “My hope,” O’Neill says, “would be that we could eliminate dengue at some point.”

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