Thousands of mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria were released in an area of the Florida Keys in an attempt to control the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, carriers of the Zika virus, Chikungunya, and the Dengue fever.
Approximately 20,000 male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released on Stock Island April 18 for a field trial that will go on for at least 12 weeks. The modified mosquitoes don't bite and have been manually infected with the bacteria.
Experimental Mosquito Males Released To Fight Zika
Wolbachia is present in the cells of numerous insects. However, it doesn't naturally occur in mosquitoes, so the bacteria were manually injected in a lab as part of the current trial.
When the infected male mosquitoes mate with the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the eggs don't hatch, which makes it impossible for the insects to reproduce. The trial intends to naturally stop the spread of the virus by attacking the fundamental process through which these mosquitoes reproduce.
The Zika virus can affect pregnant women as well as those who plan on getting pregnant. In case of infestation, there can be grave consequences for the children born to mothers who were carriers of the virus during the pregnancy.
Approximately one in 10 mothers in the United States who gave birth while infected with the Zika virus in 2016 had children who suffered from birth defects, according to data provided by the CDC.
"Testing for Zika remains complex because there is a narrow timeframe for obtaining a positive laboratory result, and many infected people do not have symptoms that might motivate testing," also noted the CDC page.
According to Andrea Leal, executive director for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, the success of this trial could mean that a new tool effective in fighting the virus is available. Should the trial be successful, the representatives of this initiative would encourage local administrations countrywide to try out this solution as well.
The mosquitoes will be released two times every week in 20 areas within the trial surface.
The male insects don't bite. However, immediately after the beginning of this trial, the presence of an increased number of mosquitoes will be noticeable.
Zika Prevention And Pregnancy Outcomes
There have been 5,238 documented cases of the Zika virus in the continental part of the United States and Hawaii, and less than 300 cases have been locally transmitted. Out of the total number of cases, 4,939 occurred in travelers who returned home from areas affected by this virus.
The infection can cause microcephaly as well as other kinds of serious brain damage in babies. The pattern of birth defects associated with the disease includes vision problems, brain abnormalities, problems moving limbs, and hearing loss.
Additionally, kids who seem to be normal at birth can also suffer from underlying brain defects related to the virus.
"CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid travel to areas with risk of Zika and unprotected sex with a partner who has traveled to an area with Zika to prevent Zika-related birth defects in their babies," noted Peggy Honein, Ph.D., the Zika Response's Pregnancy and Birth Defects Task Force co-lead.