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Election Results Show Split on Using GMO-mosquitoes in Florida

NOV 10, 2016 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
While the nation continues to process Donald Trump’s “stunning upset” of a win over Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s presidential election, public health officials in Florida received a mixed message from voters in the state regarding efforts to combat the Zika virus.
 
Ballots in South Florida’s Monroe County, and the community of Key Haven within its borders, included non-binding referendums on vector-control initiatives designed to prevent transmission of the mosquito-borne virus via “local” mosquitoes, or bugs native to the region. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of November 2, 2016, all locally transmitted cases of Zika in the 50 states were confined to areas of Miami and Miami Beach. Florida also has 915 travel-related cases of infection.
 
Media reports prior to Election Day—some with headlines trumpeting the potential impact of the vote on global efforts to fight the Zika virus—noted that voters in Key Haven would be asked, “Are you in favor of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District conducting an effectiveness trial in Key Haven using genetically modified mosquitoes to suppress an invasive mosquito that carries mosquito-borne diseases?” The ballot question for all of Monroe County was similarly worded.
 
The genetically modified mosquito in question, OX513A, an engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquito manufactured by biotech firm Oxitec, has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and will be tested in South Florida, regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, officials have said. The modified mosquito is designed to mate with normal, wild female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes; the resulting offspring, however, will be born with a gene that will kill them off before they reach adulthood and bite.
 
Not all Floridians are happy to have their homes essentially used as the setting for an experiment, and the disagreement on the issue was highlighted by the results on November 8th. The Miami Herald reported that while 58% of voters in Monroe County overall supported the initiative, 65% of those in Key Haven, where the tests are set to take place in the spring of 2017, opposed it. Local officials in Key Haven, a town of 1,000 residents, have scheduled a meeting later this month to allow for public comment on the planned tests.
 
Meanwhile, officials in nearby Cuba, just 100 or so miles away, have been lauded for their aggressive mosquito control program that has more than 15,000 inspectors checking homes in the island nation daily, and treating any mosquitoes they find with pesticide. Although many Zika virus cases in the country go unreported, only 3 confirmed cases of Zika have been identified in Cuba.
 
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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