The mayor of Jacobina, Brazil has issued a “state of emergency” in response to a deadly outbreak of Dengue Fever, a debilitating and often fatal virus transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.
This comes only a year after an English biotech company, Oxitec , was contracted to release genetically modified (GM) Aedes Aegypti mosquitos in two areas of the town, as part of a pilot program to reduce the infectious mosquito population. In the Release of Insects with Dominant Lethality (RIDL) program, the male insects are injected with a transgene that makes its future offspring die.
Known as the “Breakbone Fever,” Dengue infects between 50-100,000 people every year and is responsible for 20,000 deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) claims the virus has multiplied by 30 times and has spread from 9 countries in 1970 to over 100 countries today.
The commercialization of the GM pest control science was greenlighted by Brazilian regulator Comissão Técnica Nacional de Biossegurança (CTNBio), in spite of the fact that the results of the initial trials that took place in Bahia, Brazil have yet to be published.
In response to the latest epidemic, civil society organizations in Brazil and around the globe are asking The Brazilian National Agency of Sanitary Vigilance (ANVISA) to make Oxitec publish the results of the Bahia study and to stop any further experimentation or commercial development of the technology until proper disease monitoring methods can be instigated.
Critics of the technology warn the release of GM mosquitos could make the Dengue problem worse, as new, stronger forms of the mosquito develop in response to the genetic meddling. They are also concerned that a dramatic reduction in the number of Dengue-carrying mosquitoes could lower the population’s immunity to Dengue, which would make them more susceptible to, and more likely to suffer extreme illness when confronted with future, post-RIDL, outbreaks of the disease.