The Zika name comes from the Zika Forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in 1947. Since the 1950s, it has spread within the narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. From 2007 to 2016, the virus spread eastward, across the Pacific Ocean to the Americas.
The Zika virus causes none or only mild symptoms, similar to a mild form of dengue fever. With no specific treatment, paracetamol and rest may help with the symptoms. As of 2016, medications or vaccines cannot prevent this illness. Zika as we know can spread from a pregnant woman to her baby.
This can result in microcephaly, severe brain malformations, and other birth defects. Zika infections in adults may result rarely in Guillain–Barré syndrome a rapid onset of muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system. Since the recent wide spread media coverage on the Zika virus epidemic in 2015/16 much has been debated about on how to tackle this deadly virus.
Enter the Life Sciences arm of Google umbrella company Virely Alphabet. It is suggestion that the company will release 20 million machine-reared, bacteria-infected mosquitoes into Fresno city in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
They will supposedly be infected with the Wolbachia, which is a naturally occurring bacterium that doesn’t affect humans. The male mosquitoes don’t actually bite but rather simply mate with female mosquitoes to create non-viable eggs. Over a prolonged period it is expected to decline their population limiting the Zika virus from spreading.
There are concerns however with various campaign groups worried about the use of these modified mutant mosquitos. Some of the concerns being raised are what will the more virulent Asian tiger mosquito that also carries dengue virus do, fill the void left by a decline in the Aedes aegypti species? Would the dengue virus mutate and become even more dangerous? This echo’s concerns raised in the past over the antibiotic resistant Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus more commonly known as the MRSA virus. This virus started as a hospital-acquired infection, but has since developed into full endemic status, which is now community-acquired.
A similar British, Oxford based company named Oxitec, a division of the Germantown, Maryland based Internox is planning to release genetically modified mosquitoes into Florida Keys. The company wants to use the Florida Keys as a testing ground for these mutant mosquitos. Oxitec is trying to apply to the FDA for an “animal bug” patent. The company has already deployed them in Brazil, and is seeking regulatory approval for tests in Florida and Texas.
This could result in these GM mosquitoes being released at any point, much to the disapproval of locals and the scientific community. Nearly all experiments with GM crops have sooner or later resulted in unintended consequences. Super weeds became more resistant to herbicides, mutated and became resistant to insects causing damage to surrounding ecosystems.
While reported cases have slowed down remarkably, mosquitoes capable of carrying the virus, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are curently spreading around large parts of the southern United States, Americas.