Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Released In Brazil To Fight Dengue Fever

Scientists in Brazil are introducing genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild in an attempt to curb a rapid increase in dengue fever cases.

In the first two months of this year, the country has seen over 1 million cases of the mosquito-transmitted viral illness, marking a 226% increase from the same period in 2023. There have been 195 deaths attributed to the disease so far this year, according to the country’s health ministry.

Several cities have declared a state of emergency, including Rio de Janeiro, which in February recognized the epidemic as a public health crisis after the city reported more than 42,000 cases since the beginning of the year.

Nearly half of the world’s population lives in areas susceptible to dengue, which in Brazil, is a persistent issue. From 2003 to 2019, the country documented over 11 million cases, with significant outbreaks occurring every three to four years.

Only one in four people infected by dengue fever develop symptoms, which include fever, headache, and nausea. These symptoms usually resolve within two to seven days. However, in some instances, the condition can escalate, leading to hospitalization and potentially resulting in death.

Treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms, as there is no known cure for dengue. The infection can’t be spread from person to person.

The lack of a specific treatment has driven officials to explore alternative solutions. One such solution involves the strategic release of genetically modified mosquitoes (GMM) that are bred to combat the spread of dengue by targeting the female mosquito population.

The technology behind this initiative, designed by biotech firm Oxitec, involved breeding male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to carry a gene that is lethal to their female offspring before reaching adulthood, as dengue fever is spread only through the bites of female mosquitoes.

Oxitec’s general manager, Natalia Ferreira, told Reuters that the initiative can reduce the mosquito population in an area by up to 90%.

The technology was also used in 2021 in the Florida Keys, against the wishes of thousands of Florida residents and a petition with over 100,000 signatures. An estimated 750 million to 1 billion genetically modified mosquitoes were released, with Florida locals calling the project a form of “terrorism.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed over $1.5 million to funding Oxitec’s mosquito technology.

At the moment, no long-term studies on human, animal, or environmental health have been conducted.

While there’s currently no evidence to suggest that these genetically modified mosquitoes pose a health threat, concerns about their long-term impact on the ecosystem and native insect populations remain.

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