As a father of six, I know that all children bring challenges. But a child born with microcephaly will present his or her parents with unique struggles.
As we enter into the warm summer months, the threat of another outbreak is looming. That is why I have and will continue to urge the federal government to quickly authorize new strategies that can be used to both curb the spread of the virus and prevent additional outbreaks.
I believe we should be taking a multi-faceted approach to put an end to the threat of Zika. This must include spraying programs, education awareness efforts, and the search for a vaccine. But more importantly, we must also look at new and science-based solutions that can control the growing population of disease-carrying mosquitoes in Florida.
The mosquitoes that spread Zika are called Aedes aegypti. It is an invasive species in the U.S. and uniquely built to spread disease because it loves living in and around our homes and it loves to feed off humans rather than other mammals.
Besides Zika, it spreads a number of other diseases – yellow fever and dengue, just to name two. International travel and warm weather only increase the chance that these diseases are not only here to stay, but that we will continue to see more outbreaks. Because of the way it lives and breeds, the diseases the Aedes aegypti spreads are hard to control. It’s like a dry field of grass – just one spark can cause an out-of-control fire.
While ongoing research for a vaccine is imperative, we can’t only focus on a solution that will cost billions of dollars and that won’t be ready for years to come. I think we should be focused on the root of the problem – identifying new, innovative solutions to cut down on the population of Aedes aegypti. Some of those solutions already exist today.
One example of the technology I’ve advocated for is the Oxitec genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquito. When it is released into the wild, it doesn’t bite, it doesn’t transmit disease, but does transmit a self-limiting gene that makes its offspring die before reaching adulthood.
This technology is being used successfully in some countries already. If we had it available in the U.S., many expectant mothers might have one less thing to be anxious about.
Last year during a CDC briefing about the Zika outbreak in South Florida, former Director Thomas Frieden cautioned, “We also don’t yet have ideal ways to control the particular mosquitoes that spread Zika, and we need better methods and tools for mosquito control.” He added, “… aggressive mosquito control measures don’t seem to be working as well as we would have liked.”
What he means is that the insecticides that most cities use today to control mosquitoes do not work well for a variety of reasons, including the mosquitoes’ ability to be insecticide resistance. Even mosquito control officials have cautioned that insecticides are becoming less and less effective. This combined with the unseasonably warm winter we experienced has officials concerned
So as we enter into the summer months, I urge moms everywhere to take a few minutes to learn how to protect themselves from mosquito-borne diseases by going to the websites of the CDC or the Florida Department of Health.
Your health, and the health of your family, may depend on it.
Richard Corcoran is Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.