Genetically Modified Mosquitoes May Solve Zika Outbreak in Brazil

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Jan 21, 2016 06:00 AM EST

FLAMINGO, FL - AUGUST 12: The body of a female mosquito fills up and balloons as she sucks blood from the photographer's hand at Everglades National Park August 12, 2002 in Flamingo, Florida. The female bugs use the blood protein to feed their eggs then lays the eggs in water. The itch from the bite is caused by the human body's immune system responding to the mosquito's saliva. During the summer, the Everglades closes its camping facilities almost entirely because of the onslaught of mosquitoes. Traps are put up throughout Flamingo where 250,000 mosquitoes a day are collected. (Photo : Tom Ervin/Getty Images)

Health officials of Brazil are now hopeful that the genetically modified mosquitoes may stop Zika virus from spreading. According to a British biotech company, releasing genetically modified sterile male mosquitoes has succeeded in reducing the number of disease-transmitting mosquitoes.

As reported by The Guardian, the South American nation has been trying hard to contain the Zika virus as the rainy season c. Brazil health officials have linked Zika to a growing number of birth defects in the country. Mothers infected by the virus usually give birth to babies with unusually small heads; a neurological condition called microcephaly.

The genetically modified Aedes aegpti mosquito was developed by Oxitec, the UK-subsidiary of U.S. synthetic biology company Intrexon. The company began its tests in April 2015. The offspring from the genetically modified mosquitoes dies before reaching adulthood. Releasing the self-limiting strain of mosquitoes has reduced the larvae by 82 percent by year's end.

Aedes aegypti transmits the Zika virus as well as dengue fever and chikungunya. Typically, male mosquitoes do not transmit the disease as only female mosquito bites. The tests were carried out in the city of Piracicaba, in the province of Sao Paolo.

The test results were released on Tuesday and were confirmed by the city's health department.

Officials wanted to quell international concern about the virus as two weeks from now, the Carnival celebrations, one of the highlights in Brazil, will commence. More so, they wanted to encourage travellers to attend the opening ceremonies of 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro reports Reuters.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory to pregnant women. They warned them against travelling to 14 countries and territories affected in the Caribbean and Latin America.

More so, the U.S. has reported its first case of a baby born with microcephaly in Hawaii. According to Hawaii state department, the baby's mother may have contracted the disease while she was living in Brazil in 2015.

According to Joseph Conlon, a technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association, the results of the tests were novel and efficacious. Admittedly, the procedure may not be 100 percent effective, if allowed to be enforced fully, the mosquito population may be reduced below disease transmission level with minimal effects to the environment said Conlon, reportsThe Guardian.

Brazil army has been putting efforts to reduce the mosquito population by eliminating standing water. The strain that carries the virus is difficult to control     with conventional spray methods according to Conlon.

Since October 2015, there were 3,530 recorded babies born with microcephaly mostly concentrated in poorer regions according to the state Health Ministry. 

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