UK’s Oxitec Works To Find Ways To Prevent Zika Epidemic In The US
The Zika virus has become the cause of growing fear in the US. Almost 651 cases of Zika had been reported per week in Caribbean, 6,601 in South America and 6,164 in Brazil. Between 2015 and 2017, there were 5000 cases reported in the US. Out of this 4779 cases were travelers who got infected from outside the US.
An UK biotech company Oxitec is working to ward off the Zika virus. They are trying a new way by creating genetically modified male Aedes mosquitoes which will mate with the females carrying the disease. Oxitec’s principal scientist, Dr. Derric Nimmo said that they are using genetic engineering for this. They are creating only male mosquitoes for this purpose as they don’t carry or transmit disease. These will then mate with the disease carrying Aedes female mosquitoes. The offspring produced from this will die before they reach their adulthood. This confirms that they will not be able to reach a stage where they can carry and pass the disease.
Currently there is no vaccine or medicine for the prevention of Zika. Inovia pharmaceuticals in June 2016 had received the approval for conducting clinical trials on human. However the scientists at the University of Texas said that it would take about a decade for the FDA approved treatment to be made publicly available. This time is more than enough for the virus to spread and make the disease a global threat. It was not possible to say correctly how many people in the US would be affected by this disease. Andrew Monaghan belonging to the National Center for Atmospheric Research had said in 2016 that the Florida Keys, central Florida and border areas in South Texas had elevated risks of the disease.
The greatest danger posed by the virus is when a pregnant mother is infected and disease passes on to the fetus. This result in a brain defect called microcephaly which is fatal. There has been widespread fear among people about the genetically modified mosquitoes. There are also fears about its impact on the ecosystem. Oxitec is currently waiting to get their final approval in Brazil and the US.