January 29, 2016
The World Health Organization announced it will convene an Emergency Committee under International Health Regulations on Monday, February 1, concerning the Zika virus ‘explosive’ spread throughout the Americas. The virus reportedly has the potential to reach pandemic proportions — possibly around the globe. But understandingwhy this outbreak happened is vital to curbing it. As the WHO statement said:
“A causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth malformations and neurological syndromes … is strongly suspected. [These links] have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika, from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.
“WHO is deeply concerned about this rapidly evolving situation for 4 main reasons: the possible association of infection with birth malformations and neurological syndromes; the potential for further international spread given the wide geographical distribution of the mosquito vector; the lack of population immunity in newly affected areas; and the absence of vaccines, specific treatments, and rapid diagnostic tests […]
“The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty.”
Zika seemingly exploded out of nowhere. Though it was first discovered in 1947, cases only sporadically occurred throughout Africa and southern Asia. In 2007, the first case was reported in the Pacific. In 2013, a smattering of small outbreaks and individual cases were officially documented in Africa and the western Pacific. They also began showing up in the Americas. In May 2015, Brazil reported its first case of Zika virus — and the situation changed dramatically.
When examining a rapidly expanding potential pandemic, it’s necessary to leave no stone unturned so possible solutions, as well as future prevention, will be as effective as possible. In that vein, there was another significant development in 2015.
Oxitec first unveiled its large-scale, genetically-modified mosquito farm in Brazil in July 2012, with the goal of reducing “the incidence of dengue fever,” as The Disease Daily reported. Dengue fever is spread by the same Aedes mosquitoes which spread the Zika virus — and though they “cannot fly more than 400 meters,” WHO stated, “it may inadvertently be transported by humans from one place to another.” By July 2015, shortly after the GM mosquitoes were first released into the wild in Juazeiro, Brazil, Oxitec proudly announced they had “successfully controlled the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads dengue fever, chikungunya and zika virus, by reducing the target population by more than 90%.”
Though that might sound like an astounding success — and, arguably, it was — there is an alarming possibility to consider.
Nature, as one Redditor keenly pointed out, finds a way — and the effort to control dengue, zika, and other viruses, appears to have backfired dramatically.
The particular strain of Oxitec GM mosquitoes, OX513A, are genetically altered so the vast majority of their offspring will die before they mature — though Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher published concerns in a report in September 2010 that a known survival rate of 3-4 percent warranted further study before the release of the GM insects. Her concerns, which were echoed by several other scientists both at the time and since, appear to have been ignored — though they should not have been.