Actions against the Zika Virus

By Veronica Rarick

The Zika virus is creeping closer and closer to the United State’s bubble. Dozens of cases have already been reported in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas.

The mosquito species Aedes Aegypti, which is native to the United States, can carry the disease as a host. However, since no one has yet to become a carrier here, the Zika virus is not in the country for now. People currently infected by the disease in the United States most likely contracted it abroad.

If a diseased mosquito traveled here, it could infect the mosquito population, possibly causing a Zika outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said they are prepared to handle any locally transmitted Zika viruses.  

Twenty-five countries have already been infected with the disease.

“I have family spread out all over Colombia. I am actually very worried for most if not all of them,” said Natalie Navarro, a student at MLEC.   

As a result of the spread, new guidelines are being considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect the general public from the Zika virus. The FDA is looking to change blood donation policies by prohibiting people who were infected with Zika from donating blood.

If the virus is in the donated blood then the tainted blood could infect other people. The Zika virus leaves the blood stream after about a week. People who have traveled to a country infected with the Zika virus have to wait a month before donating.

“Before going back to Colombia, I will most definitely do some research on preventative measures,”  Navarro said.

The United Kingdom and Canada have already changed their policies regarding blood donations. Both have asked blood donors to wait approximately a month after visiting a Zika infected country before donating.

Oxitec, a British company, is working to reduce the amount of Zika carrying mosquitos by combating them with mutant mosquitos. Oxitec breeds male mosquitoes that pass along a gene in reproduction that causes offspring to die young, hence cutting the population short.  

The genetically modified Oxitec mosquito would act as a “biological Trojan Horse,” eradicating the diseased mosquitoes from the inside as Time Magazine puts it.  

Trial runs done in Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands abridged the Aedes Aegypti mosquito population by over 90%. In another test done by Oxitec in Piracicaba, Brazil, Zika transmitters were cut down by 82%. The city later announced it would allow the expansion of the project with Oxitec, including building an Oxitec factory in the area. The trials are small scale compared to what Oxitec labs are capable of doing.     

Oxitec mosquitoes have biosafety approval in Brazil and are pending FDA approval for a trial in Florida.The war on the Zika virus is only beginning.

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