Pinellas leaders considering genetically modified mosquitoes for Zika fight

Mosquito Control fumigation helicopter
Pinellas County Mosquito Control fumigation helicopter. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (30 June 2016).

A Pinellas County resident contracted Zika in Florida, so county officials are scrambling to find ways to control the mosquito that carries the virus; several leaders have signed a letter to the feds asking for permission to release genetically modified mosquitoes as part of the strategy to kill Aedes aegypti.

One person who signed is Pinellas County Commission chair Charlie Justice.

“This is a letter originated by Representative Chris Sprowls, through our federal officials, I believe the FDA. What that would allow us–it doesn’t mean that we’re going to automatically do it–but, it would give us the authority, similar to what’s been doing in Monroe county, that if we found the right spot and the right place, that these modified mosquitoes have the ability to help dwindle the population of the type of mosquito that can carry the Zika virus.”

And they would do that by releasing males that would cause the offspring to die?

“It’s basically that, yes. It’s basically halting the development as well as the future growth of adult populations.”

In the Keys, some of the residents are concerned about the genetically modified organism aspect of this. Do you have concerns about that?

“Well, we’re hearing some of that and certainly, we’ll do our due diligence before we actually make the final call to release them. I think what the point now is that there has been studies that say they have been incredibly effective at the reduction of the Zika mosquito. And we want to be able to have every tool at our disposal, should we need it.”

Some residents in Pinellas county are concerned that they don’t know the geographic area, within Pinellas, where there might be some local spread. And then you could say that there’s a privacy concern about the patients who have gotten infected. What’s the balance there? Should residents know where, geographically, this might be spreading?

“Well, I think there’s a couple of things. First, would I like to know? Yes. I would agree with, I think, the general population would like to know where it is. The governors and the Department of Health, the governors all, I think that they’re still investigating.

“Apparently, this person that does have it, traveled quite a bit in the region. So we’re not 100% sure, necessarily, that it was contracted definitely in some portion of Pinellas. So, I think we do want to be diligent, we do want to be concerned and we want to make sure that, you know, that we’re certainly not discounting anything. But, we want to make sure that we know all the facts before we jump to that next part in the conversation.

“So, I think that the listeners should know that the state and the county, we have ramped up our spraying efforts–our targeted spraying efforts–we’re ramping up our education efforts and people–while we certainly are not at any point where people should overly panic or do anything too dramatic–they should take the steps necessary: if you have standing water or if you have a bucket or a tire or something like that with water, people need to take the steps themselves to reduce the risk of having mosquito growth in their own areas.”

Here’s more WMNF News coverage of Zika.


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