With Cayman’s first cases of the Zika virus confirmed this week, the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) is launching an assault on the mosquito that carries Zika and other diseases.
The MRCU told Cayman 27 it will begin the roll-out of its genetically modified aedis aegypti mosquito starting next week.
“We have some pupae here, and we can see that they’re swimming around with the larvae in the back,” said Oxitec Operations Manager Renaud Lacroix as he showed thousands of mosquito larvae swimming in a shallow tray of water.
The rearing laboratory contains fifteen large racks with twenty trays of larvae each, enough to supply the ‘Friendly Aedis Aegypti‘ project with plenty of sterilised, non-biting, male GMO mosquitos.
“We are expecting to be able to produce around a half million males a week when we are in full production,” said Mr. Lacroix.
These larvae, when they’re all grown up, will be the MRCU’s latest tool to fight the aedis aegypti mosquito, the vector of transmission for Zika, chikungunya, dengue, and yellow fever.
The MRCU told Cayman 27 it plans to start its genetically modified mosquito releases in a 300 acre section of West Bay. Three times a week, 100-200 pots containing a thousand of the so-called “friendly” aedis aegypti mosquitos will be released.
“If you can get the population of aedis aegypti down low enough that you then remove the risk of transmission of disease, than you’ve accomplished your goal from the disease prevention aspect,” said MRCU Director Dr. Bill Petrie.
He told Cayman 27 downplaying the public health threat of the Zika virus would be unwise.
“Zika is not particularly that serious for most individuals who contract the disease, and is less severe than chikungunya or dengue for example,” explained Dr. Petrie. “Nonetheless the other health aspect of Zika, which is now being confirmed by the World Health Organization, is the congenital effects of the virus. The effects of the virus on the unborn child.”
He says with two Zika cases confirmed as of this week, time is of the essence.
“It’s important that we get going now,” he said.
The first of the GMO mosquitos were initially slated to be released in June, but some administrative delays – namely securing the certificate of occupancy for the rearing lab – encountered a slight delay.