The Zika virus that is transmitted through the bites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito is spreading throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean, inclulding Puerto Rico. The virus has been linked to increases in microencephaly in babies born to mothers bitten by mosquitoes and the paralyzing condition, Guillain-Barre syndrome. The Centers for Disease Control expects that the virus will make it to the mainland United States sometime this summer. Absent a vaccine, the chief way to protect public health is mosquito control measures such as spraying insecticides where larva grow. However, a much subtler and environmentally friendly technique as been developed by the biotech company Oxitec: mosquitoes genetically engineered to pass along a gene that is lethal to Aedes aegypi larva. Unfortunately, depite the fact that the agency concluded that that technology is safe and actually issued a finding of no significant impact in March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has caved into anti-biotech activists and has delayed approval this technology.
In contrast, the Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) has announced that it will begin a roll out of Oxitec mosquitoes as a way to fight the spread of the Zika virus. From the press release:
Dr. Bill Petrie, Director of MRCU said, "We have wanted to remove this invasive pest for a long time, but this has proven very difficult using currently available tools on an island the size of Grand Cayman, so we have been looking for new approaches. The decision to deploy the Oxitec solution comes after the success of a peer-reviewed trial. We believe this environmentally friendly tool can greatly reduce the population of Aedes aegypti and has the potential to eliminate it from Grand Cayman."
A once technologically-confident United States would have been at the forefront of deploying this kind of scientific know-how for the benefit of the public. Now our timidity will likely lead to babies born with shrunken heads and people confined to ventilators for months as they recover from Guillain-Barré syndrome. For shame!