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Mosquito Pools in South Georgia Test Positive for Rare, Deadly Virus


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Health officials say two mosquito pools in South Georgia have tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE).

EEE is a rare virus that’s spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito.

While there are only a few cases reported each year in the United States, EEE has an approximate 30% fatality rate.

And many survivors have ongoing neurological problems.

WSB-TV reported:

“While it is not uncommon for mosquito-borne illnesses to be identified within our communities this time of year, it is important that we not become complacent to the risks,” said Kenneth Lowery, the district epidemiologist with Georgia Department of Public Health’s South Health District. “Avoiding going outside during peak mosquito times and making sure you are taking precautions when you are outside are the best defenses against mosquito-borne illnesses.”

Upon learning about these South Georgia mosquito pools, I instantly remembered something that has recently occurred in neighboring Florida.

Bill Gates-funded Oxitec released genetically modified mosquitos into the Sunshine State.

Is there a connection?

It’s too early to say.

However, the reports of EEE-infected mosquitoes are near the Florida-Georgia line.

The biotechnology giant moved forward with a pilot project that involves releasing up to a billion genetically engineered mosquitoes in Monroe County over a two-year period.

Environmentalists and Florida residents voiced concern and outrage last year of the project that left locals feeling like ‘guinea pigs.’

From The Defender:

Presented by local authorities as an effort to control the population of Aedes aegypti — a mosquito species that can carry both the dengue and yellow fever virus — critics warn that the effort’s supposed benefits and its potential negative consequences have not been sufficiently studied.

Responding to news that the first boxes of genetically modified mosquitoes were placed in six locations in Monroe County last week, Friends of the Earth noted in a press release that “scientists have raised concerns that GE mosquitoes could create hybrid wild mosquitoes which could worsen the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and could be more resistant to insecticides than the original wild mosquitoes.”

Dana Perls, food and technology program manager at Friends of the Earth, called on the Environmental Protection Agency — which approved the project last May — to “halt this live experiment immediately.”

“This is a dark moment in history,” said Perls. “The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes puts Floridians, the environment and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic. This release is about maximizing Oxitec’s profits, not about the pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases.”

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and Oxitec said late last week that “less than 12,000 mosquitoes are expected to emerge each week” in Monroe Country over a duration of around three months, the initial phase of the experiment.

The stated goal of the project is for Oxitec’s genetically altered, non-biting male mosquitos to mate with the local biting female population, producing female offspring that die in the larval stage before they can spread disease.

Nature described these details about the experiment:

Aedes aegypti makes up about 4% of the mosquito population in the Keys, a chain of tropical islands off the southern tip of Florida. But it is responsible for practically all mosquito-borne disease transmitted to humans in the region, according to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD), which is working closely with Oxitec on the project. Researchers and technicians working on the project will release bioengineered male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which don’t bite, to mate with the wild female population, responsible for biting prey and transmitting disease. The genetically engineered males carry a gene that passes to their offspring and kills female progeny in early larval stages. Male offspring won’t die but instead will become carriers of the gene and pass it to future generations. As more females die, the Aedes aegypti population should dwindle.

FKMCD in 2010 approached Oxitec about testing its approach in the Keys, because Florida was — and still is — experiencing an increase in mosquito-borne disease. In 2009, the state began seeing cases of locally transmitted dengue, and, a few years later, locally transmitted Zika.

In late April of this year, project researchers placed boxes containing Oxitec’s mosquito eggs at six locations in three areas of the Keys. The first males are expected to emerge within the first two weeks of May. About 12,000 males will exit the boxes each week over the next 12 weeks. In a second phase later this year, intended to collect even more data, nearly 20 million mosquitoes will emerge over a period of about 16 weeks, according to Oxitec.

Genetically engineered mosquitoes are an alternative to insecticides, which are used heavily in the United States to control insect populations. This has resulted in the evolution of mosquitoes that are resistant to insecticides.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing our toolbox shrinking due to resistance,” said Andrea Leal, executive director of FKMCD, at a press conference last week. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re really looking at these new innovative tools and new ways to control this mosquito.”

To monitor the trial’s progress, researchers will use capture devices to trap mosquitoes for study. They will measure how far the male mosquitoes travel from the boxes, how long they live, how effectively they squelch the wild female mosquito population and whether all of the females with the gene are indeed dying. Oxitec mosquitoes carry a fluorescent marker gene that makes them glow when exposed to a specific colour of light, which makes identification easier.

The biotech firm plans to present the results to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which gave the green light for the trial. The data will help the EPA to determine whether Oxitec can release the mosquitoes more broadly in the United States. The company is still testing them in Brazil and other countries.

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