As of early this week, there are now over a dozen people newly infected with Flavivirus, aka Zika. This is the first time in the U.S. the virus has been spread locally. As we detailed last week, more funding is being allocated to battle this problem.
There is still much concern on handling this issue before it becomes an epidemic, much less a pandemic across the country. This money is proving to help as it allows for more "boots on ground" to combat against these mosquitoes, yet this is turning out to not be as effective as hoped.
Is there another way?
A British based company, Oxitec, has developed a synthetic DNA modifier and created genetically modified mosquitoes known as OX513A. These modified mosquitoes, primarily all males, are created in labs overseas and shipped to sites of deployment in egg form. Once hatched, these modified insects mate with wild Aedes aegypti, infect the offspring with a repressive gene resulting in 97 percent of their offspring dying. The premise being, if enough males are released and mate, the population of these Zika-carrying mosquitoes will dramatically decrease.
Oxitec has genetically modified the genes of male mosquitoes by inserting a repressive lethal gene in to their DNA. The new gene introduced, tTAV (tetracycline repressible activator variant), binds to the cell's "machinery," causing no other genes to be explicitly expressed. The tTAV's ability to control all other genes within the mosquito causes the insect cells to die, eventually resulting in the mosquito's death.
The Cayman Islands is a recent site of dispersion. The British Island territory agreed to this new effort in controlling the spread of Zika virus, joining the likes of Brazil and Panama, by setting in motion Friendly Aedes aegypti Project.
These mosquitoes have been targeted to be released over the next nine months in known hot spots for the Aedes aegypti species, main vectors of the Zika virus, in an attempt to eradicate this problem. In Brazil and Panama, where these OX513A have been released, the Aedes aegypti populations have decreased by more than 90 percent.
Next Stop, the U.S.
While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now issued a travel advisory, warning pregnant women from visiting areas with ongoing Zika transmissions in northern Miami, FL, Oxitec is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow them to release thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes across the Florida Keys.
This is nothing new, as this company has been fighting to do so for well over a year now, yet the FDA has recently released a preliminary finding that states there is no "significant impact" on human health, animal health, or the ecosystem. This moves the company's plans one step closer to having modified mosquitoes buzzing around southern Florida.
We Refuse to be Test Dummies!
This is the overall feeling of many whom reside in the Florida Keys, especially those residing in Key Haven, as this is the proposed "testing site" for OX513A. Many feel they are being mandated to be a part of an experiment and do not want to be. They have emblemized this thought by portraying "No Consent" signs around their neighborhoods. There is also a petition which has been circulated and signed by more than 168,000 citizens across the country, more than double the Key West population.
How this relates to EDM
While serving in the emergency and disaster management realm of operation, we are to operate on behalf of our stakeholders, citizens within our communities. While there will never be 100 percent approval for every proposed policy, at what point do you negate the recommendation of the community and enact the policy?
In the words of Georg Lichtenberg, "Whether things will be better if they are different I do not know, but that they will have to be different if they are to become better, that I do know."