UF seeks approval for device that could help stop spread of Zika

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

A mosquito trap designed by University of Florida researchers could limit the spread of the Zika virus, but first it needs approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Phil Koehler, a professor in the university’s entomology and nematology department, said researchers have requested an emergency registration permit for the product. If granted, the university would be able to distribute the device to the general public.

The product would still need final approval of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are not in a normal situation,” said Koehler. “We are in an emergency situation. We want to have the products and technology available to the public.”

Koehler said the small black and red device traps mosquitoes and kills them by slowing releasing insecticides over time. Those insecticides, he said, are well-known insecticides that are already being used in Florida.

The university had planned to submit its proposal for EPA approval this month. But the process takes about seven months, which means it wouldn’t be available for use until next year. Koehler said with the rainy season underway and the number of cases of Zika in Florida on the rise, the group decided to request emergency approval.

Federal law allows for exemptions if emergency conditions exist. According to federal law, exemptions can be approved if there is a significant economic loss; or significant risks to endangered species, threatened species, beneficial organisms, or the environment.

Koehler said the university is trying to file for an exemption under the economic guidelines, and said the have been in discussions with state officials for several weeks.

“We need the state approval really soon so that the citizens can use this in … in a crisis,” said Koehler.

Aaron Keller, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said while the approval is granted by the EPA, the Department of Agriculture has been working with Koehler “to help him navigate the requirements” of the request.

“As summer begins and increased mosquito populations are anticipated, our department is pursuing tools to help Florida fight Zika and protect our residents and visitors,” he said in a statement. “As individuals come forward with mosquito control methods to help deal with this potential public health crisis, like Dr. Koehler, our department will work with them to navigate the process.”

Among other things, Keller said field testing is necessary “to verify the effectiveness of the products and to protect the public from unintended consequences.”

There have been more than 600 cases of travel-related Zika in the United States. As of Wednesday, there were 172 cases of travel-related Zika in Florida. According to the state Department of Health, 38 of those cases involved pregnant women, regardless of symptoms.

Florida lawmakers have been among those leading the charge to get more money to curb the spread of the virus. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio called on the Senate to approve President Barack Obama’s $1.9 billion funding request; while Gov. Rick Scotthas called on the president to send help to Florida.

Koehler said his group has talked to Nelson and Rubio about the device; and has been in touch with the Department of Agriculture and the Governor’s Office.

“We’re able to control the mosquito population very quickly with the mosquito killing device,” he said. “We have to get approval.”