Swarms of bacteria-infected mosquitoes will be released into backyards in north Queensland today as part of a trial to eliminate dengue fever.
The insects will be infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which stops the transmission of dengue.
Once they are released in Townsville, it is hoped they will infiltrate and breed with the existing wild population, passing on Wolbachia and eventually wiping out dengue.
The project's Professor Scott O'Neill, from Monash University*,* said the Eliminate Dengue project was the first trial of its type in an Australian city.
In the next 12 months small buckets filled with water, mosquito food and a small number of bacteria-infected mosquito eggs will be placed in 4,000 backyards.
"It's very special bacterium and it only lives inside the cells and gets passed from one generation to the next in their eggs," Professor O'Neill said.
"When you think how big the disease is, how big a problem it is, it's quite an ambitious goal."
The potentially fatal disease has no specific treatment and no vaccine.
Each year, an estimated 390 million people are infected and 40,000 killed by the dengue virus.
The latest Queensland Health figures showed there were 18 confirmed cases in Townsville, 29 in Charters Towers and 136 in the Cairns and Innisfail areas.
The number of infections in Townsville will be monitored to see if there is less infections than previous years.
If the trial is successful the project will be rolled out to problem areas in South-East Asia.
"About 2.5 billion people live in dengue risk areas," Professor O'Neill said.
"We don't have any way to control it at the moment, the dengue problem is getting worse and worse, so we're hoping that this intervention we're developing could have a very positive impact."
Sufferers welcome the trial
After suffering the painful symptoms of dengue fever, Carla Lejarraga said she was pleased Townsville was playing a part in the battle against the virus.
She contracted dengue fever in Townsville two years ago.
It took her more than a week to recover from the painful virus.
"One of the scariest things for me was I couldn't walk up stairs, my joints were so achy," she said.
"The fatigue is massive, you have no energy. It's terrible."