Our Unexpected Ally in the Fight against Zika: Mosquitoes

By: Nicholas Persaud

 

Zika is my no means a novel development. In fact, the virus that causes Zika was first identified in a monkey living in the Zika forest in 1947. One year later a specific species of mosquito called Aedes africanus was determined to be the mosquito that carries the virus. The first time a human contracted the Zika virus was actually in 1952, but it was not until 2007 that the first major outbreak occurred. The symptoms of the Zika virus, while potentially serious, are by no means out-of-the-ordinary and include pain in various parts of the body, rashes, and fever.

However, one of the main reasons why Zika has gained so much attention is because of the negative health effects it has on newborns. Zika has been shown to cause microcephaly in infants, a devastating condition that leads to abnormal brain development. Because it’s spread by mosquitoes, often an unavoidable reality in tropical regions, it has become of the most frightening health crises in our modern world.

The Zika virus has been spreading across the globe and has managed to find its way to the United States. In order to combat the rapid growth of Zika researchers have been desperately searching for a method to combat Zika. It just so happens that the people of Florida are considering fighting fire with fire. A British biotech company called Oxitec has genetically modified the Aedes aegypti mosquito in order to prevent the spread of Zika. The scientists of Oxitec have modified the mosquitoes so that they will not be able to produce viable offspring upon mating. Essentially, the purpose of these mosquitoes is to significantly reduce mosquito populations by being sterile.

Oxitec released their genetically modified mosquitoes in other countries and the results were favorable. The next place that Oxitec wants to release its mosquitoes in is Florida. Florida has had multiple reported cases of Zika and Oxitec believes that its mosquitoes will offer a solution. The FDA has approved the the genetically modified mosquitoes and deem it safe to be tested in Florida. However, before releasing the mosquitoes government officials want the consent of the residents and not everyone is willing to give it.

Many residents in Florida are against the release of the mosquitoes because they fear that it will have drastic effects on the environment. Oxitec attempted to alleviate the fears of the residents by making a statement that the mosquitoes will “not have a significant impact on the environment”. Despite this, people are still against the idea of releasing the mosquitoes in Florida. Government officials are asking residents to vote in order to express their opinion on the matter. While the vote will reflect the public opinion it may have little impact on the decision to release the mosquitoes because the officials can choose to ignore the results. The majority of government officials say that they will take into account the results of the election when making the final decision. The vote will take place on November 8, which coincidentally is the same day America makes its decision on who the next president will be. Even with the negative feedback from the public the possibility that the mosquitoes will be released is very high, marking a potential first step in the fight against a dangerous contagion. 

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