The first three cases of Zika that started in southern France have been confirmed and experts are sounding the alarm that the climate crisis may cause more cases to spread across the continent, as CNN reported.
The European Centers for Disease Control reported that all three cases were in Hyères, a French Riviera town. In all three cases the infected person had no travel history to countries where Zika is endemic, according to Zika News.
This is the first time that local tiger mosquitoes have developed and spread the virus, which stands in stark contrast to the nearly 2,400 cases that Europe has seen since 2015 when an outbreak spread in South America, as The Telegraph reported.
All three patients got sick within a short time of each other, which suggests they were all part of the same transmission cycle. Since they have all recovered, the European Centers for Disease Control says the risk to travelers and residents is low, according to CNN.
The Earth's warming climate coupled with an increase in travel between continents means tropical diseases are likely to spread and thrive in areas where they would have once been unthinkable. The planet just experienced its hottest October on record and four out of the past five months have set new average temperature records, which creates a trend that tropical viruses and bacteria will find hospitable.
Experts warn that Zika and other tropical diseases are likely to flourish in Europe, as CNN reported. This is "the first time that locally acquired Zika cases were identified, which poses new challenges for the control of these diseases," Moritz Kraemer, a researcher into infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, told CNN.
Kraemer added that native Zika is particularly surprising because the type of mosquito that carries it in South America isn't usually found in Europe. That means the virus has moved to the Asian tiger mosquito, which is now commonly found in southern Europe, according to CNN.
The Asian tiger mosquito "has become common in parts of southern France, where it has probably also been responsible for transmission of dengue. It has also been detected widely throughout southern Europe and sporadically further north," said Anna Checkley, consultant in Tropical Medicine at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, to CNN. "Warmer temperatures favor its survival, and as we go into winter it is much less likely that we will see further new cases. (But) if global temperatures increase, this mosquito may spread further north in Europe and we may see small clusters of cases further north."
"It's one thing for travelers to come back to a country with a disease, that happens all the time," said professor James Logan, head of the department of disease control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to The Telegraph. "It's another thing completely when a disease is transmitted locally as it demonstrates capacity. We now have a new exotic disease in Europe. In many ways this is a bit of a wake up call for the continent."
Logan added that the three confirmed cases suggest the disease is more widespread than we know, since most people who catch Zika do not show any symptoms. Others may have suffered headaches, nausea or a mild fever but not realized that they had the Zika virus, as The Telegraph reported.
The primary concern with Zika is that it causes birth defects when a pregnant woman is infected. It can lead to microcephaly, a neurological disorder that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, which causes severe developmental issues and sometimes death. Zika can also cause other problems for babies, including eye problems and hearing loss, as CNN reported.
- How Far North Could Mosquitoes Go If Climate Change Is ... ›
- Where Mosquitoes Will Multiply Thanks to Climate Change - CityLab ›
- Zika, dengue, and yellow fever are about to get much worse - Vox ›
- The Link Between the Zika Virus and Climate Change - The Atlantic ›
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That is the warning issued by a study from the University of Exeter and the University of California, Berkeley published Friday in the Journal of Agricultural Research. The study found that 13 percent of U.S. honeybee keepers are at risk of losing their colonies from Zika spraying.
"A colony unexpectedly exposed to pesticide spraying for mosquitoes would almost certainly be wiped out," study lead author Lewis Bartlett of the University of Exeter's Center for Ecology and Conservation said in a university press release. "Beekeepers in the U.S. move their colonies around to support farmers, so a beekeeper with all their bees in one area at a given time could lose them all."
The study was prompted by 2016 reports that the spraying of an organophosphate pesticide to stop the spread of Zika in South Carolina killed millions of honeybees. At the time of the spraying, there had been 43 cases of Zika in the state, but none of them had been contracted from in-state mosquitoes. Residents said they were given less than 10 hours notice of the spraying.
Researchers wanted to see if other honeybee colonies could be impacted by similar incidents, so they compared data on the density of honeybee colonies with areas at risk from Zika. They found that the places best for the bees also had favorable conditions for virus that causes brain defects in unborn children. Those regions include Florida, the Gulf Coast and potentially California's Central Valley.
While Florida has a system in place to control mosquitoes while protecting bees and other pollinators, other states are less prepared. This could be devastating both for bees and their keepers.
"At the start of this research we spoke to a beekeeper who was caught unawares and lost all her bees," Bartlett said.
"Beekeeping is a very traditional way of life in the US, with a lot of pride in families who have done it for generations, but many are struggling now.
"Given all the threats facing bees, even a small additional problem could become the straw that broke the camel's back.
"Many beekeepers live on the breadline, and if something like this changes things so beekeeping is no longer profitable, there will be huge knock-on effects on farming and food prices."
Bartlett said he understood concerns about the spread of Zika, but that policymakers should conduct research before they jump into preventative spraying.
While the study only looked at non-native honeybees kept to help farmers, the researchers said that honeybees are actually more resilient than other species, so Zika spraying could also harm other pollinators.The study is also an example of the astounding ripple effects of climate change, which has been linked to the rapid spread of Zika.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Joyce Sakamoto and Shelley Whitehead
Mosquitoes, long spreaders of malaria and yellow fever, have more recently spread dengue, Zika and Chikungunya viruses, and caused epidemic outbreaks, mainly in U.S. territories. The insects are also largely responsible for making West Nile virus endemic in the continental U.S.
Ticks, which are not insects but parasitic arthropods, actually cause more disease in the U.S. than mosquitoes do, accounting for 76.51 percent of total U.S. vector-borne disease cases. These include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever and newer diseases as well.
Why the uptick in vector-borne disease, and more importantly, how can we protect ourselves from potentially serious diseases? As researchers of these types of diseases, we have some answers.
Blood: The High Cost of Living
Both mosquitoes and ticks transmit disease-causing pathogens through bites.
Only the female mosquito takes a blood meal to make eggs, but almost all life stages of ticks need blood to survive.
Although mosquitoes were first demonstrated to have the ability to transmit diseases in 1889, mosquitoes have been transmitting diseases for far longer. Written records as early as 2700 B.C. suggest malaria plagued humans in China.
The first suspected dengue outbreak occurred in the early 1600s, but it took three centuries for the first three mosquito-borne diseases—malaria, dengue and yellow fever—to invade the Americas. Yet, in the past two decades alone, we've experienced a wave of three more mosquito-borne diseases—West Nile, Chikungunya and Zika viruses. This marked increase in disease spread is due to several factors, including advances in air and water travel and warming temperatures.
The High Cost of International Travel and Trade
The international tire trade has made Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, a global traveler. This mosquito gains passage on cargo ships and gets unlimited access to man-made containers, which it needs for breeding, in the thousands of tires on board these ships. Rainwater collecting in the tires are ideal breeding sites. Even though it is not a major vector of dengue, Chikungunya and Zika viruses, this invasive species is still especially dangerous. It is able to outcompete most other mosquito species that live in similar habitats.
We humans serve as hosts for many vector-borne diseases, and our own movement can aid transmission. We can hop on a plane and be in a different country within hours. Diseases once quarantined to other regions of the globe can now be easily transported within an infected human. Some people don't even realize they are sick. Researchers have estimated that up to 80 percent of individuals infected with Zika virus are symptomless. Yet, if the right vector feeds on a symptomless but infected person, transmission can still occur.
Increased climate fluctuations, largely due to human activity, can also affect how vector-borne diseases spread. Warmer climates may allow mosquitoes to survive in areas previously too cold to support them.
Predicting the outcome of warming on overall vector populations can be difficult. If, for example, summer in the deep Southeast becomes too hot and dry for mosquito development, peaks in transmission and mosquito numbers could shift to the fall. Higher temperatures may shorten the time it takes for pathogens to develop within mosquitoes, so mosquitoes may become infectious faster and transmit pathogens sooner.
Five percent of 900 tick species are known to transmit disease-causing microorganisms. Because 38 percent of all tick species have been known to bite humans, researchers will likely find more tick-borne diseases. Since 2004, there have been nine new vector-borne diseases described in the U.S., and seven of these are tick-transmitted, including the two potentially fatal Bourbon and Heartland viruses.
Most, or 82 percent of tick-borne disease cases, are Lyme disease, which is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, and transmitted by the blacklegged, or deer, tick. Cases of Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis have increased two-and-a-half to six-and-a-half fold.
Tick-borne diseases may be rising due to global travel, animal transport, habitat fragmentation and changing climate. Climate change is correlated with range expansion of several important tick species. Ticks previously limited by cold winters are now becoming established farther north. In response to the arrival of Lyme disease to Canadian soil, the Public Health Agency of Canada responded with a Federal Framework on Lyme Disease focused on disease surveillance, education and awareness, and best practices for control, prevention and treatment of Lyme disease.
What Can You Do?
To lower your risk of transmission from mosquitoes:
- Check backyards for anything that could hold water and empty such vessels. This includes children's toys, bird baths, empty soda cans and flower pots.
- Use mosquito repellents that are EPA approved. Avoid natural repellents that haven't been verified for their effectiveness.
To prevent tick bites:
One sure way to prevent tick bites is to avoid suitable habitats for ticks, but this isn't always possible. Large-scale habitat control or acaricide (tick-killing) treatment of wildlife, though possible, can be difficult or not cost-effective for homeowners. The best preventative measures are:
- Use CDC-recommended repellents such as DEET or picaridin.
- Shower and do a thorough tick check.
Tick checks are absolutely crucial. People usually follow this routine after going outdoors, but sometimes forget. And they often avoid places that ticks love, such as between your legs. Hard-to-reach areas are prime real estate for blood-feeding parasites that don't want to be dislodged, so make sure to check: the hairline (especially on children), torso, belly button and groin. If necessary, get assistance or a mirror and a bright light.
If you find an embedded tick, correctly dislodge it with fine-tipped tweezers, grasping the part closest to the skin and pulling straight up. Do not burn, squeeze, twist or smother the tick, since this may cause it to regurgitate. Gross-out alert: Any pathogens they have in their saliva can then be dumped into the bite site.
After removal, keep the tick for identification; different species transmit different pathogens. Finally, see a doctor after finding an embedded tick or if you think you have been bitten. In addition to getting medical attention, your data will be added to the national list of reported tick-borne diseases.
The CDC has several pages dedicated to vector-borne disease control and prevention. Local state health departments, general practitioners and veterinarians will also have recommendations for prevention, treatment and vector control. Talk to your veterinarian about repellents or agents that will kill mites called acaricides for pets, since some can be toxic to cats.
#EPA Approves Release of Mosquito-Killing #Mosquitoes in 20 States https://t.co/FYN3EBTLz7 @SierraClub @GMWatch… https://t.co/kMCr7jjeGh— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1510163765.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
Today we face a challenging political climate, but the climate crisis shouldn't be political. It is not only the greatest existential crisis we face: it is also causing a global health emergency, where the stakes are life and death.
Because of the urgency of these threats, several partners and I are hosting a Climate & Health Meeting Thursday at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The event will fill a void left when the Climate & Health Summit, originally to be hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was abruptly cancelled last month.
Experts who had been invited by the CDC felt the conference should definitely go forward because the science shows increasing direct impacts of warming temperatures and more extreme weather on public health. Increasing global temperatures are disrupting the global climate and the earth's hydrological cycle, leading not only to record high air and sea temperatures, but also to more extreme flooding, deeper and longer droughts and more frequent and severe storms. In turn, these effects jeopardize our vulnerable global food system and exacerbate fresh water scarcity and the refugee crisis.
As the planet continues to warm, vector-borne diseases and the environments in which microbes and diseases multiply are also expanding. Mosquitos, ticks and other vectors now have wider ranges as warmer weather permits them to move to higher altitudes, provides them with a longer breeding season, speeds up incubation times for the viruses they carry and increases the frequency of "blood meals."
In some parts of the world, the reemergence of malaria is directly related to increasing temperatures and disruptive rainfall; this is also true for increased instances of West Nile, Dengue and—most recently—Zika. Over the past two years we have heard from doctors and scientists something that we have never been told before: in regions of Latin America, doctors have advised women not to get pregnant for two years. And last year, the CDC advised pregnant women not to travel to Miami, marking the first time Americans have been cautioned not to travel to part of their own country to avoid infectious disease.
These particular manifestations may be new, but scientists have been warning us for many years that tropical diseases, extreme weather and risks to our global food system caused by the climate crisis are posing ever more dire threats to human health.
The need for science and health professionals to explore and discuss the impact the climate crisis is having on global health should not be a political issue. The time to act is now. Make sure to join us tomorrow, Feb. 16 at 9 EST, for live coverage of the event here.
Reposted with permission from our media association Medium.
A mysterious Zika case in Utah has been solved and it shows we still don't know everything about the virus.
Back in July, a 38-year-old man stumped experts when he was diagnosed with the Zika virus, even though he hadn't traveled to any Zika-infected areas or had sexual contact with someone who did. He also lived in Salt Lake City, an area not considered a hospitable environment for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito that transmits the virus.
So far, the only ways Zika is known to be transmitted is through a bite from an infected mosquito, sexual contact with an infected person, contact with infected blood or a pregnant mother to her baby.
#Zika Goes Viral in the U.S. https://t.co/LvG1OOWP2q @NRDC @Columbia @earthinstitute @sierraclub #Rio2016— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1470403676.0
After tracking how this man could have gotten the virus, they discovered that he had visited a 78-year-old friend in a Utah hospital, just seven to 10 days before his symptoms began.
Eight days before the elderly man was admitted to the hospital, he had returned from a 3-week trip to the southwest coast of Mexico where it was learned he contracted Zika from mosquitoes, according to a new paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
During the 38-year-old's visit, the paper says he helped the nurse re-position his friend and had wiped the man's eyes. That's it.
The paper concludes:
"Given the very high level of viremia in Patient 1, infectious levels of virus may have been present in sweat or tears, both of which Patient 2 contacted without gloves. Transmission of the infection through a mosquito bite appears to be unlikely, since aedes species that are known to transmit ZIKV have not been detected in the Salt Lake City area. In addition, the second case occurred 7 to 10 days after contact with the index patient in the hospital, which implicates direct contact during hospitalization."
So can Zika be transmitted through someone's sweat or tears, and how easily?
In a study published on Sept. 6, traces of the virus were detected in the tears of mice, but there hasn't been any studies conducted yet on sweat.
"It should not be able to pass through unbroken skin," Sankar Swaminathan, the chief of infections disease at University of Utah Health Care, and first author on the paper, told The Atlantic. Meaning the man probably either had a cut somewhere on his skin, or he inadvertently touched his eyes, nose or mouth, and the virus entered his body.
What scientists are now looking into with this case is the severity of the elderly man's infection. Four days after he was admitted into the hospital he died and, while he was elderly, was reportedly not immunocompromised.
His blood had 200 million copies of the virus per milliliter—with a typical infection you'd expect to see hundreds of thousands, and 1 million would be considered high, Swaminathan said, which lead to progressive respiratory and renal failure, metabolic acidosis and hepatitis just before his death.
A factor being considered is that because he had contracted dengue in his past, it's possible remaining antibodies from that somehow worsened his infection. He also may have had a genetic immune deficiency that just happened to be very specific to this virus, and the fact that he had a very high viral load of the virus in his system is what likely led to it being transmitted in this way, Swaminathan said.
There have been 13 fatal cases in adults—not counting deaths from Zika-related Guillain-Barré—many of which had pre-existing conditions. While this case is definitely scary, mosquitoes and sexual transmission are still the main worries in the spread of the virus.
"For the general public, this doesn't really change very much," Swaminathan said.
Aerial spraying of the pesticide naled in a South Carolina county, done in an attempt to prevent Zika-infected mosquitoes from gaining a foothold in the state, resulted instead in the massacre of millions of honeybees.
On one farm in Summerville, South Carolina, 46 hives were wiped out instantly, killing 2.5 million bees.Flowertown Bee Farm and Supplies Facebook
While 43 Zika cases have been reported in the state, all but one were from travelers who were infected abroad. The other was a sexually transmitted case. No one in South Carolina has been locally infected by a mosquito. Nevertheless, county officials sprayed a 15-square mile area early Sunday morning. Dorchester County officials said they announced the spraying on Friday and via a Facebook post on Saturday, but many residents said they received less than 10 hours notice.
43 cases of Zika reported in South Carolina to date. Credit: South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
The scenario reprises the days of DDT spraying that prompted Rachel Carson's seminal book, Silent Spring. The 1962 book by the former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service writer detailed the disastrous effects on birds from the widespread use of synthetic pesticides following World War II. The leading culprit, DDT, was shown to cause reproductive failure in bald eagles, ospreys, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons. Indiscriminate aerial spraying laid a film of the pesticide where birds would pick it up.
Naled, the pesticide used in South Carolina, is an organophosphate first registered for use as a pesticide in 1959. Organophosphates were developed in the 1940s as biological warfare agents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently authorizes use of naled for mosquito control. It is currently being applied by aerial spraying to 16 million acres of the mainland U.S., including highly populated areas. The EPA says that the chemical does not pose risks to people, although it recommends staying indoors during aerial spraying.
However, the agency appears to underplay the risks to honeybees. Its website states:
Applications made between dusk and dawn, while bees are not typically foraging, can reduce exposure to honey bees.
Although we do not anticipate significant exposure to bees, beekeepers can reduce exposure to bee colonies even more by covering colonies and preventing bees from exiting colonies during designated treatment periods, or if possible, relocating colonies to an untreated site. Providing clean sources of food (supplemental sugar water and protein diets) and clean drinking water to honey bee colonies during application can further reduce exposure.
Contrary to the EPA's recommendation, however, the spraying in South Carolina took place from 6:30 - 8:30 a.m.
Toxipedia, the online toxicology encyclopedia, is far more circumspect on the potential dangers of naled. They call it a severe skin and eye irritant, and cite a study that showed exposure to the chemical resulted in chronic nervous system damage in dogs and rats. Toxipedia also states that naled is "highly toxic to many bird species especially Canadian geese" and affects reproduction in Mallard ducks. They also note that its use "puts many endangered species at risk." With respect to honeybees, they couldn't be more clear:
It is toxic to bees and stoneflies (#EXTOXNET, 1996).
In April, EcoWatch reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was silencing its own bee scientists. A Feb. 7, 2014 story documented the EPA's approval of two other pesticides known to be highly toxic to bees. The EPA's action came despite the concerns of beekeepers facing colony collapse.
On one farm in Summerville, South Carolina, 46 hives were wiped out instantly, killing 2.5 million bees. Compounding the problem was the weather: hot, 90 degree temperatures caused bees to leave their hives in order to cool down. That meant the bees were active during the widespread spraying.
As many residents became aware of the insecticide spraying, they tried to contact Dorchester County Mosquito Abatement by phone, as the notices had stated. No one answered. A resident who has started a petition on change.org wrote, "To our knowledge not one phone call was returned and no answers were given." The petition asks for the spraying to be stopped, for more information on the chemicals used and for a public forum to discuss their concerns. By Tuesday, Dorchester County had issued an apology, but there is no word to date on whether they will compensate beekeepers for the destruction of their hives.
The honeybee genocide in South Carolina came as a study published on Monday by the National Academy of Sciences links high demand and federal subsidies for corn and soybean crops to the loss of grassland in the Great Plains that bees need to survive. The study says that expansion of these crops in the Northern Great Plains is "altering the landscape in ways that are seemingly less conducive to beekeeping." The area in the study is home to more than 40 percent of the U.S. bee colonies.
Honeybees are nature's best pollinators. Without them, important crops including almonds, blueberries, apples, asparagus and broccoli would be threatened. It is estimated that bees are responsible for some $19 billion of U.S. crop production. The agricultural impact of the South Carolina disaster is not yet known.
This warning comes just days after the Center for Disease Control expanded on its first ever domestic travel warning by advising pregnant women not to travel to Miami Beach due to the spread of Zika. Fauci highlighted the increased risk of Zika in Louisiana because of recent flooding, as standing water provides an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos.
Zika Goes Viral in the U.S. - EcoWatch https://t.co/Xeuvr7Bpts @Greenpeace @HuffPostGreen— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1470435904.0
For a deeper dive:
Amid news of a Zika outbreak in the Miami area, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) has cleared the experimental release of genetically modified (GMO) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help combat the virus.
The agency also concluded that the proposed field trial "will not have significant impacts on the environment"—on the food chain, for instance—after considering thousands of public comments.
The purpose of the investigational trial is to determine the efficacy of Oxitec's GMO mosquitoes for the control of the local population of Aedes aegypti in Key Haven, a small community about a mile east of Key West. County residents will vote this November on whether or not to allow the field tests to proceed.
The mosquitoes in question were created by Oxitec, a UK-based biotech firm that specializes in insect control. Pending approval, Oxitec will release its "self-limiting OX513A Aedes aegypti," a male GMO mosquito that does not bite or spread disease, to mate with wild female Aedes aegypti, the primary vector that carries the Zika virus. The lab insects carry a gene that's fatal to offspring, meaning the local population will dwindle over time at the release site.
"We've been developing this approach for many years, and from these results we are convinced that our solution is both highly effective and has sound environmental credentials," Oxitec's CEO Hadyn Parry said. "We're delighted with the announcement today [on Aug. 5] that the FDA, after their extensive review of our dossier and thousands of public comments for a trial in the Florida Keys, have published their final view that this will not have a significant impact on the environment. We are now looking forward to working with the community in the Florida Keys moving forward."
Parry estimated to the Guardian that 20 to 100 mosquitoes per person will be released on the island.
Prior efficacy trials in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands reduced the Aedes aegypti population by more than 90 percent—"an exceptional level of control compared to conventional methods, such as insecticides," Oxitec said.
As The Verge noted, Oxitec's rate is much more successful compared to efforts by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. The program, which utilizes conventional control methods such as pesticides sprayed from trucks and planes and mosquito traps, reduced mosquito populations by 30 to 60 percent.
Oxitec's trial in Florida will run for between six and 22 months.
"Oxitec is responsible for ensuring all other local, state, and federal requirements are met before conducting the proposed field trial, and, together with its local partner, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, to determine whether and when to begin the proposed field trial in Key Haven, Florida," the FDA said.
The FDA also said that its decision to approve Oxitec's Florida field trials does not mean the GMO mosquitoes are approved for commercial use.
The Zika virus has spread with alarming speed throughout South and Central America. The island of Puerto Rico has more than 8,000 confirmed cases of Zika with officials estimating that cases will skyrocket. The state of Florida now has 422 cases—more than any other state in the nation, as POLITICO pointed out.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, a rare neurological condition which leads to abnormal brain development in babies. The World Health Organization has declared the situation an international public health emergency.
A new analysis by Climate Central highlights that the number of days hot and humid enough for mosquitoes to be active and biting has increased in many big U.S. cities—and climate change will further increase those numbers, in most locations. In their analysis, the ten cities with the biggest increase in the length of the mosquito season over the last 30 years were: Baltimore, Maryland; Durham, North Carolina; Minneapolis; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; Portland, Maine; St. Louis; Pittsburgh; Worcester, Massachusetts ; and Albany, New York. These cities cover a huge swath of the eastern U.S. Nationwide, 76 percent of major cities have seen their mosquito season get longer over that time.
This adds a whole other dimension to the public health challenges of Zika: climate change could make more areas of the U.S. more susceptible to this and other mosquito-borne pathogens in the future. Increased heat, disrupted precipitation patterns and higher humidity can allow mosquitoes to thrive in new places, as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported in our Fever Pitch report about dengue fever, another infectious viral disease that can be carried by the same two Aedes mosquito species. Warmer temperatures enable mosquitoes to develop more quickly and to incubate viruses that can infect people faster. Thus, climate change can hasten the spread of many infectious diseases, including Zika.
Besides Zika, the Aedes aegypti transmits other viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya.
Zika Goes Viral in the U.S. - EcoWatch https://t.co/Xeuvr7Bpts @Greenpeace @HuffPostGreen— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1470435904.0
Critics are voicing concerns over the Florida GMO mosquito project. A release from Common Dreams highlighted Oxitec's connection to its parent company, Intrexon, which produces non-browning Arctic apples and fast-growing AquaBounty salmon—two highly controversial GMO food products.
Some public health advocates have also pointed out that the long-term environmental effects of GMO mosquitoes are unknown.
"Releasing GMO mosquitoes into the environment without long term environmental impact studies is irresponsible and frightening," Zen Honeycutt, director of the anti-GMO group Moms Across America, said in reaction to the FDA's decision. "What about the creatures who eat the mosquitoes and all the life forms up the food chain? The impact could be irreversible ... Allowing uncontrollable genetically altered life forms into the wild is not justified."
Change.org petition, signed by nearly 170,000 people, has called on government officials to reject Oxitec's trial involving "mutant mosquitoes," the petition states.
Four Florida residents have been infected with Zika in the first known case of local transmission of the virus in the continental U.S., according to health officials.
female Aedes aegypti mosquitoJames Gathany/CDC, 2006
A new study shows that climate change is increasing the length of mosquito season in the U.S. thus increasing the risk of Zika. However, Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said widespread transmission of Zika in the U.S. is unlikely.
What can be done to prevent the Zika virus? Here's some advice from a Natural Resources Defense Council blog post:
Drenching our homes and communities with harmful pesticides will not address Zika. Pesticides may seem like an attractive solution, but these chemicals must be used judiciously and strategically to avoid harming the very people we seek to protect (Duprey et al 2008). Aerial or even backpack spraying of ultra-low volume pesticides has had a very hard time achieving effective control of these particular mosquitoes, which have proven almost impossible to get rid of. Instead, we need a range of tactics to help prevent mosquito bites and disease transmission (CDC 2016 prevention):
- Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and long pants.
- Apply personal mosquito repellant, such as EPA recommended formulations in the morning and early evening (CDC 2016 prevention; EWG 2016 on Zika). Try to pick products using minimal risk ingredients, if appropriate.
- Use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of homes.
- Every week, inspect the inside and outside of your home for standing water and eliminate it. This includes flowerpots, tires, buckets, planters, toys, birdbaths, empty garbage cans and lids, etc.
- Stop infected people from getting further mosquito bites to prevent spreading the disease to more mosquitoes.
For a deeper dive:
Background: Climate Signals