Aedes aegypti mosquito

A vacuum tube holds a blood-fed Aedes aegypti mosquito under a microscope in a research lab at the UW-Madison.

A bacteria found in butterflies and bees can help prevent the spread of Zika virus, suggesting that mosquitoes could be infected with the bacteria and released into the wild to control Zika outbreaks, UW-Madison researchers said Friday.

Scientists from UW-Madison and elsewhere have already released such mosquitoes into countries with dengue virus, a related infection, to study the effect.

A new study, in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests the same approach could be taken with Zika, which has caused an outbreak involving severe birth defects such as brain damage in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the study, researchers from UW-Madison and the Universidad de Antioquia in Columbia allowed mosquitoes with and without the bacteria, called Wolbachia pipientis, to feed on mice infected with Zika.

They used Aedes aegypti, or yellow fever, mosquitoes, the ones most likely to carry Zika.

“Mosquitoes with Wolbachia were less capable of harboring Zika virus, and though they do get infected with Zika, it is to a lesser extent than wild-type mosquitoes,” Jorge Osario, a UW-Madison professor of pathobiological sciences, said in a statement.

Matthew Aliota, a scientist at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and first author of the paper, said the findings show that the bacteria could be a “novel biological control mechanism” to fight Zika.

Wolbachia is passed from mother to offspring, so newborn mosquitoes would contain the bacteria and incorporate it into the wild population.

The bacteria can be found in up to 60 percent of insects around the world, but it is typically not found in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

Another UW-Madison study this week found that monkeys infected with Zika virus are protected from future infection, and pregnancy dramatically prolongs infection in monkeys. Those findings suggest a vaccine against Zika should be effective, and a blood test in pregnant women could help determine the likely extent of birth defects.

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