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NEA expanding Project Wolbachia to reduce Aedes mosquito population after study sites see 88% drop in dengue cases

SINGAPORE — After succeeding in suppressing the Aedes aegypti mosquito population by up to 98 per cent in some neighbourhoods, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is set to expand its Project Wolbachia programme to another residential estate and selected construction sites in Singapore.

This photograph taken on Feb 7, 2017 shows male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes feeding on sugar in its enclosure at the National Environmental Agency's mosquitoes production facility in Singapore.

This photograph taken on Feb 7, 2017 shows male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes feeding on sugar in its enclosure at the National Environmental Agency's mosquitoes production facility in Singapore.

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  • Project Wolbachia has suppressed the Aedes mosquito population by up to 98 per cent in some sites
  • The expansion of the project will include the Marine Parade landed estate area and selected construction sites
  • More HDB blocks in current study sites will also be included
  • NEA has been engaging Marine Parade residents and volunteers to host mosquito traps in their homes for surveillance

 

SINGAPORE — After succeeding in suppressing the Aedes aegypti mosquito population by up to 98 per cent in some neighbourhoods, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is set to expand its Project Wolbachia programme to another residential estate and selected construction sites in Singapore.

In a news release on Monday (July 5), NEA said that the expansion of Project Wolbachia — a project to combat dengue through the release of the specially-bred Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitos — will test different strategies to determine the “most effective and impactful approaches for future wider scale deployment” of the programme.

NEA has been conducting phased field studies to evaluate the use of male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes to suppress the urban Aedes aegypti mosquito — the primary vector of the dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses in Singapore
— since 2016. 

Under the initiative, male mosquitoes are infected with the Wolbachia bacteria and then released to mate with female mosquitoes. The eggs produced will not hatch because they are biologically incompatible.

Besides the reduction in Aedes aegypti mosquito population, NEA on Monday said that it has also seen 88 per cent fewer dengue cases at the existing study sites in Yishun and Tampines with at least one year of releases.

Recent data from Chua Chu Kang and Bukit Batok towns have also shown a similar reduction in the Aedes aeqypti mosquito populations, NEA said.

As a result, the agency will expand the releases of the male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitos to the Marine Parade landed estate area. In addition, releases will be carried out at construction sites at the various study sites.

More Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks in the current study sites will also be involved in the project, NEA said.

As of June this year, the releases of the male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes in Yishun and Tampines have been expanded to cover 860 HDB blocks across both towns. By the first quarter of 2022, a total of 1,455 HDB blocks across the two estates will be involved in the project.

Releases are also ongoing at dengue high-risk neighbourhoods in Chua Chu Kang and Bukit Batok.

On the expanded releases in Marine Parade, NEA said that it has been engaging with residents and recruited volunteers to host different mosquito traps in their homes for surveillance.

“From the fourth quarter of 2021, vans equipped with release automation technology will be deployed to conduct targeted small-scale releases at the Marine Parade landed estate area,” it said.

The agency said that the “positive outcome” of the field studies in Tampines and Yishun show that the continued releases of the male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes can successfully suppress the female urban Aedes aegypti mosquito population in Singapore’s high-rise and high-density landscape.

Positive spillover effect was observed at non-release areas adjacent to the release sites, NEA said.

DENGUE TRANSMISSION REDUCED WITHIN MONTHS OF RELEASES

NEA noted that most areas in the study sites “showed good suppression” of the Aedes aegypti mosquito population within three to four months of beginning releases.

However, there was dengue transmission in a few areas where it took longer to reduce the mosquito population, NEA said, suggesting that environmental factors can delay suppression.

“Some of these areas were adjacent to non-release areas with persistently high Aedes aegypti mosquito populations or existing large dengue clusters,” it said.

Professor Duane Gubler, chairman of the dengue expert advisory panel and Emeritus Professor at Duke-NUS Medical School said that NEA’s progress in implementing Project Wolbachia in the past five years has been “outstanding”.

“The exciting results suggest that if Wolbachia technology is properly implemented alongside surveillance and community-based removal of Aedes mosquito breeding habitats, Singapore could potentially be the first dengue endemic country in the world to effectively control this epidemic disease,” he said.

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