Academics join fight to combat deadly tropical disease

Mosquito on a green background

Mathematicians at the University of Strathclyde are modelling the impact of an innovative mosquito-trap that could reduce cases of dengue fever – potentially saving thousands of lives.

Cases of the mosquito-borne disease have grown dramatically around the world in recent decades as a result of population growth, unplanned urbanisation and climate change. Despite significant investment in traditional pesticides in affected countries, a life is lost to dengue every 25 minutes.

However, researchers believe adoption of the new kind of mosquito trap may offer a solution.

The cost-effective technology works by attracting Aedes mosquitoes to a special solution which prevents 100% of their eggs from hatching in the mosquito traps, or when laid anywhere else. This provides an alternative to the traditional ‘seek and destroy’ and pest-control method of spraying pesticides, which is labour-intensive, damaging to the environment, destroys biological predators and helps mosquitoes become more resistant.

The project is funded by the globally-renowned Newton Ungku-Omar Fund and the High Impact Programme 2, Malaysia, and is a collaboration between the University, the Institute for Medical Research, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and a Kuala Lumpur-based SME, One Team Network Solutions, which designs practical and low-tech innovative solutions for pest control.

UK project lead, Dr David Greenhalgh of the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, said:  “Dengue is a huge problem for populations living in tropical climates. It’s dangerous and claims thousands of lives every year. Our research aims to create a strong case for the application of this trap not just in Malaysia, but across affected countries.

“By applying modelling to the application of the trap, we can accurately predict how effective the traps are in different scenarios, at a fraction of time and cost, compared to what it would take to do full field tests.”

Researchers will develop models using existing data, which shows the positive impact of the trap on reducing dengue cases in the local vicinity, therefore enabling them to predict the required number and impact of traps over large areas.

Dr Koay Chew Aik, Malaysian project lead and Entomologist at product developer, One Team Network Solutions, said: “The Malaysian government spends more than £18m annually to combat dengue and to date, has not seen a significant decrease in the number of cases. This is a familiar trend across affected countries which simply do not have the resources to keep mosquito populations in check.

“We hope the modelling research will help to pave way on implementation of this new sustainable and preventive method, where countries can use to outsmart the Aedes mosquitoes and minimise the spread of dengue.”

Dengue fever is a viral, flu-like illness which is spread by infected mosquitoes – most commonly the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It is estimated there are 390 million dengue infections each year, many of which occur in major urban centres with warm and humid climates.

Severe dengue is known as Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever. Dengue is endemic in more than 100 countries in Africa, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific region. According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 500,000 people with severe dengue require hospitalisation each year, a large proportion of whom are children. About 2.5% of those affected die.