Caribbean News Now reports that the Cayman Islands government, s part of its mosquito controls, released genetically modified insects on in an effort to protect people from zika, dengue and chikungunya. The “Friendly Aedes aegypti” is a genetically modified male mosquito that cannot bite or transmit diseases. When it mates with a local female Aedes aegypti mosquito, the offspring die before being able to reproduce. Hence, with successive releases, the population of the Zika, dengue and chikungunya mosquito is reduced.
The public health programme was delayed by two weeks due to legal action by an objector to the initiative. However, a court ruled earlier this week that there were no grounds for the action and lifted the temporary “stay”, a legal proceeding to delay the release, which was imposed on 13 July 2016.
“It is important that we are able to get on with the job as there is an urgency from the public health perspective,” said Dr Bill Petrie of the Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU). “We need to get the project back on track and put in place the preventative measures we have planned to reduce the risk of local transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.”
Three cases of imported zika have recently been confirmed in Grand Cayman, contracted by residents who travelled to countries experiencing an outbreak of the virus.
Known as the “Friendly Aedes aegypti Project”, operational roll-out of the pioneering technique using genetically modified mosquitoes began on Thursday morning in the West Bay district of Grand Cayman. The area is a hotspot for Aedes aegypti, the non-native species of mosquito that transmits zika, dengue and chikungunya as well as yellow fever.
Zika can cause the birth defect microcephaly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed, and the virus is also linked to other serious medical conditions such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which can lead to total paralysis. Dengue and chikungunya are a serious threat to public health, with young children, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions most at risk.
The operation in West Bay is being carried out by MRCU in collaboration with biotechnology company Oxitec. “The technique is recommended by the World Health Organization as a tool to fight Zika,” Petrie said. “One of the overarching responsibilities of the ministry of health is to protect the health and well-being of residents and visitors to the Cayman Islands. As a government agency, MRCU is tasked with controlling the dangerous Aedes aegypti mosquito population, using the best arsenal at our disposal, to ensure this happens.”
As well as the roll-out in Grand Cayman, Oxitec is currently deploying the technique operationally in an area of 65,000 people in Brazil, a country severely affected by the zika virus. The safety and efficiency of the technique was demonstrated through field releases in East End, Grand Cayman, in 2009 and 2010, as well as Brazil and Panama. The Aedes aegypti population was reduced by more than 90 percent in the areas where these releases took place. [. . .]
For more information, see https://entomologytoday.org/2016/07/14/cases-of-dengue-drop-91-due-to-genetically-modified-mosquitoes/