A genetically-engineered mosquito recently gained FDA approval to fight the Zika virus in Key Haven, Florida. As of August 17, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reported 2,260 cases of Zika in the U.S., 529 of those involving pregnant women. While the virus poses a minimal threat to the general population, women who become pregnant while being Zika positive face the risk of having a child with birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition that causes abnormal brain development. For males, the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually through bodily fluids, including oral sex, which poses a significant risk to couples who are trying to conceive.
The OX513A Mosquito & Zika
Following an environmental assessment and finding no significant impact on the environment, the FDA approved the OX513A mosquito in an attempt to suppress the Zika virus-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitos in Key Haven, Florida. The OX513A mosquito is a self-limiting strain of the Aedes aegypti male mosquito that does not bite or transmit disease, and it has been released into controlled areas to mate with wild females. Once the genetically-engineered males mate with Zika-carrying mosquito females, the offspring die before ever becoming adults. Repeatedly releasing the genetically-modified male mosquitos near Zika-carrying females could reduce the mosquito population and minimize the transmission of the virus.
According to Oxitec, the biotech company that engineers the OX5123A mosquitos, scientists can separate the males and female mosquitos mechanically since they are significantly different in size. Oxitec’s specially-engineered mosquitos have been released in other regions like Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands as part of ongoing research trials, and they have reduced wild populations of Zika-carrying mosquitos by up to 90%.
The Zika virus-carrying mosquito has already been detected and is spreading across parts of the U.S.
FDA Regulations & CDC Recommendations
Before the OX5123A can be sold commercially to combat Zika in the U.S., it must pass a successful field trial to determine the effectiveness of the organism. While this FDA approval means that the company could soon start producing OX5123A, not all residents in Key Haven, Florida like the idea. A November vote in Key Haven will allow residents to decide whether they want the genetically-modified mosquitos to be released into their neighborhood.
While some residents oppose OX5123A, there is still no vaccine or treatment that cures the Zika virus, which leaves pregnant women at significant risk. The CDC has recently issued a travel warning for Miami-Dade County for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. The CDC advises that women and men who have traveled Miami since July 14, 2016 be tested for Zika if they are planning a pregnancy or expecting a baby.