Genetically modified mosquitoes may be used to combat Zika in Miami, residents outraged

MIAMI (WSVN) - Genetically modified mosquitoes are being bred to help stop Zika, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is giving approval for them to be used in Miami, and some residents are outraged.

The new way to battle the virus is controversial, but Senator Bill Nelson assures Floridians that releasing these modified mosquitoes only poses a threat to Zika, not humans. “The EPA looked at it and said, ‘Is there an environmental damage? Is there any kind of human damage?’ And they said there is not.”

Trials are set to begin in Key Haven, which is just east of Key West. Officials in the Cayman Islands are documenting the entire process on their territory, as well.

Dr. Renaud Lacroix at Oxitec Cayman described their process. “We receive the eggs directly from the UK, and then we hatch them here,” said Lacroix. “We release males that cannot bite or transmit diseases. They mate with females and those females lay eggs. Those eggs hatch into larvae that don’t develop into adults, and, since the eggs don’t develop, it decreases the mosquito population.”

Director of the Cayman Islands Mosquito Control, Dr. William Petrie, said they want to reduce the risk of local transmission, as well. “What we want to do is to reduce the mosquito population and thereby reduce the risk of local transmission of the disease.”

Friday’s announcement to begin trials came at a critical time. There are now 16 confirmed Zika cases that are locally transmitted in South Florida.

Senator Nelson said the process could be the solution to stopping Zika in its tracks. “If approved, and if it worked, you can wipe out the aegypti [mosquito] population, but it’s extremely controversial because people worry.”

News of the genetically modified mosquitoes came to protests from locals. “It scares the hell out of me,” said Marissa Sardar.

One protester is fearful of the sheer amount of mosquitoes to be released. “Twenty-two million genetic modified mosquitoes, so that’s scary,” she said.

Key Haven residents said they are fearful of serving as lab rats. “The big concern is the unknown,” said one woman.

Researchers said Key Haven is the perfect spot for the experiment. “They’re doing a clinical research trial without any informed consent, and we’re gonna be used as the test subjects,” said protester Danielle Nannini.

Signs with the words “NO CONSENT” can be seen popping up across the neighborhood, with protesters feeling that they have no say in what’s going on. However, the FDA said the mosquitoes will not have a major impact on the environment.

“[We have] not had any problems with individuals anywhere in the world that has been tested,” said Tom McDonald of the Mosquito Control Board. “Why we’re not doing everything we possibly can to move forward with this project is almost criminal in the sense of it’s a health hazard.”

McDonald said the genetically modified mosquitoes are safer than using chemical sprays. However, residents are not convinced. “We don’t want it. We don’t want to be used as guinea pigs,” said Sardar.

There will be a vote in November when residents can decide if they want the mosquitoes to be used. However, the final decision will be made by the Mosquito Board, and they have even built a lab in a nearby building to begin the process.

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