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Scientists want to unleash dengue-resistant mosquitoes on Townsville -

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CHRIS UHLMANN: Researchers want to unleash a swarm of mosquitoes on the north Queensland city of Townsville.

The insects are resistant to dengue fever and scientists hope they'll infiltrate the existing population to get rid of the potentially fatal disease.

Right now, dengue has no specific treatment and no vaccine, but it's hoped this city-wide trial will eventually help curb the worldwide epidemic.

Today, the researchers will hold a meeting with community leaders to try and get the city on board.

The ABC's environment and science reporter Jake Sturmer has the story.

(Sound of mosquito buzzing)


JAKE STURMER: Mosquito borne dengue fever hit Cairns woman Kath Kinneally hard a few months ago.


KATH KINNEALLY: My back started aching and my legs started aching and I just thought I just have to go to bed. And all night it just… the ache is undescribable really - hot and cold, shaking and then one minute sweating and...

But the aches I think was the worst thing. Every single bit of my body just hurt.


JAKE STURMER: Mosquito numbers around the world are on the rise so it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to unleash a swarm into the community of Townsville.


But Monash University Professor Scott O'Neill says the minor inconvenience would be worth it.


SCOTT O'NEILL: We could have a very sizeable impact on dengue fever around the world and hopefully one day contribute significantly to eliminating it.

JAKE STURMER: The method involves the introduction of mosquitoes infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia.


Small scale trials in Cairns have shown it prevents mosquitoes from transmitting dengue and they eventually overrun the existing dengue-carrying population.


SCOTT O'NEILL: We've had strong community support, the science has been very good and it's looking very promising. And what we wanted to do is move those experiments now to Townsville as well as Cairns, so we're expanding.


JAKE STURMER: Australia's love affair with Bali has meant the number of dengue cases brought back here from South-East Asia has quadrupled in the last few years.


And in the last six months in northern Queensland, there have been almost 200 confirmed cases.


Professor O'Neill will address Townsville community leaders this afternoon to try to get the city on board.


Former local police senior sergeant and now councillor Gary Eddiehausen is the chair of the community reference group, set up to gauge support for the plan.


GARY EDDIEHAUSEN: There's been no negative feedback whatsoever - and I wouldn't expect there to be because it is a significant issue in north and far north Queensland.

JAKE STURMER: Depending on support from the community, mosquitoes could be unleashed as soon as October.


CHRIS UHLMANN: Environment reporter Jake Sturmer.