The Rio Olympics are in full swing and fans are as excited as ever to watch the increasingly competitive sports. Unfortunately, the number of people that have actually made their way to Brazil to be a part of the games is significantly less than in previous Olympics. Athletes have also given up the chance to participate in these legendary games, because of concerns about their health. The fear of catching the Zika virus has become greater than the love of sports for many. Governments, and other officials, have started looking into ways of eliminating or decreasing its spread, in order to ensure that it won’t affect other high profile sports games in the future.
The best way to stop the spread of the virus would be to eliminate its cause. Zika is passed on to humans by the bite of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito. A biotech firm based in the UK, Oxitec, has developed a way of genetically modifying male mosquitos which are then released into the population. When they breed with the females, genes which will be fatal to the following generation are transferred. These offspring don’t live long enough to reproduce, and the mosquito population begins to decrease.
These GMO mosquitos have already been introduced in Cayman, Brazil and Panama cutting the amount of Aedes aegypti mosquitos in the countries by up to 90% in 6 months. The firm believes that it is currently the only viable solution, and they are negotiating terms to release the affected insects in the United States. Even though the process has already been approved by the FDA, the company is still waiting for the go ahead from other state and federal agencies. Some of the country’s citizens have expressed concern as to the possible effects that this release will have on the environment, and the human population.
Entomologists have concluded that there is no possibility of the GMO mosquitos harming humans. Furthermore, they insist that eradicating the mosquito will cause no known side effects to the local animal life, because there is no species that relies exclusively on it for food. Many countries, including the USA, are spraying pesticides into the air to kill the mosquitos. This practice is significantly more harmful to the environment as the chemicals kill other insects, including bees.
If approved in other countries, the project is expected to eventually eliminate the fear of catching the Zika virus. The expense is expected to run quite high, however, as the estimated cost is 10c per mosquito and millions will have to be released. The positives extend far beyond eliminating the Zika virus, as the Aedes aegypti mosquito is also responsible for the spread of dengue, chikungunga and other viruses. If allowed to continue to multiply freely, there is the possibility of the mosquito adapting and starting to transfer other viruses which may become even more of a threat to humans than Zika currently is.