Cayman sends in ‘anti-Zika’ mosquito

MosquitoGEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands – The Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), in partnership with UK-based firm Oxitec, will be releasing genetically engineered male mosquitoes across Grand Cayman to try to suppress the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads a number of viruses, including Zika.

Following controversial trials here and in Florida, Cayman joins Brazil in this latest initiative.

The MRCU is planning a multi-phase rollout of what was described as the “Oxitec solution” but what are, in fact, genetically modified insects, to help reclaim the island from this disease-carrying pest.

In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended pilot deployment of the modified insects because of the Zika outbreak and after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) preliminary findings that there were no significant impacts during a trial in the Florida Keys.

MRCU director Dr. Bill Petrie said it has proven very difficult because of the size of the island and the currently available tools to eradicate the mosquito and his agency was 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,” he said.

MRCU performed the world’s first trial with Oxitec’s OX513A self-limiting mosquito – a genetically engineered, non-biting male that mates with disease-transmitting wild Aedes aegypti females – which successfully reduced the target mosquito population by 96%, officials claimed.

The first phase of the project will include a series of activities to inform the community about the program. Over two months, Oxitec and MRCU employees will provide information to local residents about the program, how the solution works, why it is effective and that male mosquitoes do not bite.