The World Health Organisation (WHO), has urged countries fighting the Zika virus to consider new ways to fight disease-carrying mosquitoes, including testing the release of genetically modified insects and bacteria that stop their eggs hatching.
A statement on Tuesday in Geneva said that given the magnitude of the Zika crisis, we are encouraging the affected countries and their partners to boost the use of both old and new approaches to mosquito control as the most immediate line of defence.
The WHO also highlighted the potential of releasing sterile irradiated male mosquitoes, a technique that has been developed at the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
It said Zika virus must be fought with all available methods because it as an opportunistic and tenacious menace.
WHO said many scientists believe Zika could be linked to microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, in newborns and a serious neurological disorder in adults called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
“If these presumed associations are confirmed, the human and social consequences for the over 30 countries with recently detected Zika outbreaks will be staggering.
It said fighting the infection at source, by eliminating as far possible the mosquitoes responsible for transmission, was moving up the public health agenda, especially as the same insects also transmit dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
WHO experts said while spraying with insecticide can provide part of the solution, they also recommended evaluating newer tools.
They said this include a genetically modified prototype mosquito developed by Oxitec, the British subsidiary of Intrexon.
“The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring will die before reaching adulthood and being able to reproduce.
The WHO said its Vector Control Advisory Group recommended further field trials of the technique, following promising previous tests in the Cayman Islands.
Another option involves the mass release of male insects that have been sterilised by low doses of radiation, which the IAEA has already used to control agricultural insect pests.
An alternative approach uses Wolbachia bacteria, which do not infect humans but cause the eggs of infected females to fail to hatch.
“Mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia have already been released to reduce dengue and the WHO said large-scale field trials would be initiated soon.
“Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly,’’ it said.
The WHO believes the suspected link could be confirmed within weeks.
Brazilian researchers are investigating more than 4,300 suspected cases of microcephaly.
Researchers have confirmed more than 460 of these cases as microcephaly and identified evidence of Zika infection in 41 of them. (Reuters/NAN)