Oxitec has achieved a world first by transforming the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), an important vector of the viral disease chikungunya. Oxitec is developing novel technology, RIDL®, for the control of mosquitoes. Its first product, for control of the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti), which also transmits dengue fever and chikungunya, is under evaluation in SE Asia. This technical breakthrough allows extension of RIDL technology to the Asian tiger mosquito. Luke Alphey, Chief Scientist at Oxitec said “This breakthrough gives us the real prospect of having a new tool for the control of the Asian tiger mosquito, and hence of the debilitating disease chikungunya”.
The Asian tiger mosquito originates from SE Asia. However with the increase in international trade it has become established in 20 US states, the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America. It was first reported in Europe in 1979 and is now endemic in 12 EU countries.
Chikungunya is a debilitating viral disease, characterized by fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, muscle pain, and joint pain. It is rarely fatal but joint pain can be persistent for months. Until recently chikungunya was confined to Asia and Africa. In 2005-6 an outbreak occurred in the French island of Réunion and over 30% of the population fell ill. Hundreds of imported cases into Europe and the Americas were detected. The first outbreak in Europe – transmitted by local mosquitoes – was reported in September 2007 by the WHO in northern Italy. During the outbreak, there were 254 suspected and 78 laboratory confirmed cases. Active surveillance is continuing.