A New Approach to Combating the Zika Virus
The zika virus is currently of paramount concern to many health care officials in the United States, as there have been 29 cases of zika originating in the U.S. in the past several months (CDC). One area that has been particularly afflicted with the virus is southern Florida. As new cases emerge in Miami Beach, biotechnology companies have begun to propose that surrounding areas adopt a novel, yet preventative approach to fighting the zika virus. These companies argue that current methods to tackle zika are ineffective, but there are uncertainties regarding this new proposed method.
Zika can be transmitted multiple ways, but the most common is by mosquito bites. Other ways the virus can infect people are through intercourse, blood transfusions, and from a mother to fetus. The primary demographic that should be concerned about zika is pregnant women. Many adults rarely get sick enough from zika to go to the hospital and almost never die from the disease. However, the pathogen does pose a real threat to pregnant women because of the birth defects that it can cause. The main birth defect associated with zika is microcephaly, a condition in which a newborn’s head is smaller than normal. This abnormal shape is due to the brain’s insufficient growth either during pregnancy or after birth (CDC). The severity of microcephaly varies case by case, where the more severe instances of the condition can lead to many different learning disabilities and health conditions. Some of these include propensity to have seizures, intellectual disability, hearing loss, and vision loss. These negative effects of the virus are so pressing that public service workers in the Miami area are working overtime to ensure that all mosquitoes have been eradicated from the city streets.
Last Thursday there were reports that two new cases of zika had been diagnosed in Miami Beach. Public works crews are working around the clock to ensure that the tourism capital of southern Florida is completely without zika-carrying mosquitoes. They are using two different strategies to eradicate the disease, and are encouraging all residents of the Miami Beach area to do the same: drain and cover. Sanitation workers are working with pressure washers at temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit to force all stagnant water into the sewer system while simultaneously killing any bacteria living in the water. Additionally, public health officials are urging residents drain any standing irrigation or rain water that can collect in trash cans, pool covers, gutters, etc. (Flechas). Mosquitoes need standing water to lay their eggs, but not a lot of it; mosquito larvae can hatch in as little as a teaspoon of water. This fact is the reason that eliminating all standing water in the area is of the utmost importance. The other approach that Miami workers are using to combat Zika is to cover any isolated areas where the virus may be. Workers are vacuuming up debris where mosquitoes may lay their eggs are throwing larvicide pellets into storm-water drains. They also are requiring homeowners to cover up their doors, windows, porches, and patios with screens. People are also encouraged to wear clothing that does not expose their skin to potential mosquito bites. These are the current measures the Florida Department of Health is taking to protect its people from zika. There are certain biotechnology companies that are proposing more innovative measures to prevent this virus from spreading to other adjacent areas of the state.
Oxitec is a company that has genetically engineered mosquitoes designed to kill other ones carrying the zika virus. These synthetic mosquitos would mate with wild female ones and their offspring would die before adulthood. On August 5th, the Federal Drug Administration approved test trials of this new technology in the Florida Keys as a preventative measure. No cases of the zika virus have been reported in the Florida Keys at this time. Hadyn Perry, the CEO of Oxitec, advocates for the use of this technology to combat zika and cites its previous success. This same technology was employed in 2010 when there was a dengue outbreak in the Florida Keys, and it killed about 40% more mosquitos than the methods previously described. However, there had been opposition from local residents to use this technology, primarily because there is no current problem with zika in the Florida Keys and that there may be unpredictable side effects of this new technology (Allen). As such, this technology has not been used to date in the fight against zika, but its potential life-saving effects are very promising.
The zika virus is garnering all the attention among major healthcare officials in the United States, and for good reason. Its harmful effects on infant babies are very concerning, and must be dealt with. As such, Miami health officials have adopted a multi-faceted approach to battle the virus. However, more radical measures to fight this pathogen are on the horizon.
Allen, Greg. “Florida Keys Opposition Stalls Tests of Genetically Altered Mosquitos”.
NPR Shots: Health News from NPR. August 17, 2016. Accessed August 26, 2016.
CDC. “Overview: How Zika Spreads”. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Accessed August 26, 2016. < http://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/overview.html>.
Flechas, Joey. “Miami Beach workers Sweep City for Zika Breeding Grounds”.
Miami Herald: Healthcare. August 19, 2016. Accessed August 26, 2016.