The Zika virus can cross the placenta and attack fetal brain cells, making it extremely dangerous to unborn children, which is why health officials have emphatically advised pregnant women to do everything they can to avoid it.
Public health officials in South Florida, which has recently hit hard by the virus, is awaiting a final approval before they begin field trials in the Florida Keys by enlisting the help of a mutant mosquito to wipe out Zika.
“(T)he proposed field trial will not have significant impacts on the environment,” the federal agency said in support of the experiment, “finding of no significant impact” in its ruling, subject to public comments since March.
Oxitec, the British biotech firm behind the mutant mosquito is confident that their genetically modified “OX513A” mosquito will significantly cut the population of Zika-carrying mosquitos in this geographic region, as it has in previous trials.
“We’ve been developing this approach for many years, and from these results we are convinced that our solution is both highly effective and has sound environmental credentials,” stated Oxitec CEO Hadyn Perry. “We are now looking forward to working with the community in the Florida Keys.”
OX513A was born in a lab to carry out one single mission before he dies an early death: to mate as much as possible, spreading his dominant mutant-death gene. According to reports, OX513A has already established quite an impressive kill record, wiping out Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti, dengue, and chikungunya mosquito populations by 90% in Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands.
“The trial in the Keys also requires approval from the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District board before it can begin,” Oxitec spokesman Matthew Warren told BuzzFeed News, by email.
That Florida Keys board voted to hold a non-binding referendum on the trial as part of the November elections.
Southern Florida has been hit hard by the virus, with thirty-six people believed to have caught Zika from local mosquitoes. Of those infected, according to health officials, 25 occurred in or near Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood and five were bitten in or near the South Beach section of Miami Beach.
For the remaining 11 cases, some of which are upwards of 70 miles away, it's unclear just how the patients were infected. The majority of the Miami-area cases were found in local residents, but some were not detected until visitors had returned home to Texas, New York, or other places.