Since its discovery in Tanganyika, Africa, in 1952, chikungunya virus outbreaks have occurred occasionally in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, but recent outbreaks have spread the disease over a wider range.
In December 2013, chikungunya was confirmed on the Caribbean island of St. Martin with 66 confirmed cases and suspected cases of around 181. This outbreak is the first time in the Western Hemisphere that the disease has spread to humans from a population of infected mosquitoes. By January 2014, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that cases were confirmed on the British Virgin Islands, Saint-Barthélemy, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. In April 2014, chikungunya was also confirmed in the Dominican Republic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By the end of April, it had spread to 14 countries in all, including St. Lucia, and Haiti where an epidemic was declared.
By the end of May 2014, over ten imported cases of the virus had been reported in the United States by people traveling from areas where the virus is endemic to Florida.
Chikungunya was one of more than a dozen agents the United States researched as potential biological weapons before the nation suspended its biological weapons program.
Reference Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chikungunya
Chikungunya virus is spread by two mosquito species: Aedes aegypti (primarily) and Aedes albopictus, both found in Florida. While the virus is not currently found in the state, introductions are possible if a CHIKV infected visitor or returning traveler is bitten by Florida mosquitoes in the early stages (the first week) of their illness. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people they bite.
What is the current situation?
In December 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported local transmission of chikungunya in Saint Martin. Local transmission means that mosquitoes in the area have been infected with chikungunya and are spreading it to people. This is the first time that local transmission of chikungunya has been reported in the Americas.
A painful mosquito-borne virus spreading quickly through the Caribbean is causing alarm in Haiti and neighboring Dominican Republic, where health officials are scrambling to respond to a surge of new patients.
Chikungunya, a virus more commonly found in Africa and Asia and transmitted by the same daytime-biting aedes aegypti mosquito that causes the more deadly dengue fever, was first detected in the eastern Caribbean five months ago.
“These mosquitoes know no borders,” said Phyllis Kozarsky, a physician with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Wolbachia as a biological control agent against mosquito-borne diseases
A number of recent independent studies have shown that wMelPop and other Wolbachia strains can also confer resistance against a wide range of insect viruses as well as important human pathogens such as dengue and chickungunya viruses, Plasmodium gallinaceum, Plasmodium berghei or Brugia pahangi (Hedges et al. 2008, Teixeira et al. 2008, Kambris et al. 2009, 2010, Moreira et al. 2009a, Glaser & Meola 2010).
Integrating community concerns in the scientific approach
“Community acceptability is critical to the future use and success of this program and public engagement, collaborative partnerships and community and regulatory authorisation have been recognised as an ‘ethical requirement’ of this type of project.” (Newman et al. 2006, Lavery et al. 2008, D McNaughton, unpublished observations).
The most common community concerns related to the safety of the approach and its capacity for transfer, namely: is the Wolbachia approach safe for people? Is it safe for animals and other organisms? Is it safe for the environment (D McNaughton, unpublished observations)?
Can Wolbachia affect/be transferred to humans? Baseline data
A major concern the community repeatedly expressed was whether Wolbachia could be transferred to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes (D McNaughton, unpublished observations). Wolbachia are specialized endosymbionts that infect insects as well as spiders, mites, terrestrial crustaceans (Breeuwer & Jacobs 1996, Bouchon et al. 1998, Taylor & Hoerauf 1999, Oh et al. 2000, Bandi et al. 2001, Rowley et al. 2004). Wolbachia have never been found in humans or other mammals, neither in birds, reptiles or fish. When Wolbachia were first discovered in the 1930’s they were suspected of being potential human rickettsial pathogens and were tested accordingly (Hertig 1936).
To implement or not to implement?
Assessing experimentally the potential consequences that could happen over a long-term period and large geographic scale could be a daunting task. Many questions related to long-term consequences can only be assessed once the release is done.
Reference Link: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0074-02…
So, will these scientist be able to get the proverbial genie, back into its bottle, once it has been released?
Unfortunately, no peer-reviewed scientific proof of the safety of such biotechnologies can be offered. Long-term effects have not been at all measured, and once these insects are released, they can not be recalled. Here are but a few of the questions and issues regarding GM mosquitoes (or any GM insect for that matter). For Oxitec:
Will Oxitec need to acquire the free and informed consent of residents in Key West for the release of the GM mosquitoes? With the previous release of the mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands, there was no public consultation taken on potential risks and informed consent was not given from locals.
What could happen to the ecosystem and local food chain with the major decrease in the Aedes aegypti mosquito population?
The truth is that we have no idea what the future holds for genetic modification and the potential impacts it has on the environment and public health. We know that the Wolbachia mosquitoes contain Wolbachia to replace the naturally occurring mosquito population, but what does that really mean for humans? We simply do not know the potential outcomes that could arise from such experiments.
Genetically modified mosquitoes were released in East End on Grand Cayman in 2009 as part of a research study on the eradication of dengue fever by the UK-based company Oxitec in partnership with the Mosquito Research and Control Unit. Although there was some local notification in the district and a GIS TV programme was produced about the release the experiment remained very low profile with very little information about the project in the public domain.
Luke Alphey, chief scientific officer of Oxitec, says he “completely rejects” the notion that there was anything secretive about the trial, which was well-known within the island’s population of 50,000, he says, “but just not picked up internationally.”
“The fact that Oxitec is hiding data from the public has undermined its credibility,” said Eric Hoffman of Friends of the Earth US. “Oxitec’s assertions cannot be trusted. Trials of its mosquitoes must not move forward in the absence of comprehensive and impartial reviews of the environmental, human health and ethical risks. Such trials must also await the establishment of a clear and well-designed regulatory framework, which does not yet exist.”
Oxitec is a customer of Ansteadbrook management consultancy, established in 2004 by Colin Ruscoe, former site manager at Syngenta Crop Protection. Ruscoe is Chairman of the British Crop Production Council. Ansteadbrook’s other customers include Syntech Research (where Ruscoe is Director for Europe and Africa) and Syngenta Seeds.
Syntech Research provides product development and regulatory services to the agricultural, biotechnology and food industries as well as government bodies and agricultural commodity suppliers.
In June 2005, Oxitec was awarded US$4.8m as part of an international consortium within the Grand Challenges for Global Health initiative, led by the Gates Foundation (in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, US Foundation for National Institutes of Health and Canadian Institutes for Health Research)
In 2005 Ruscoe joined the Executive and Scientific Committees of the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) to develop commercial partnerships and apply grants (including $50m from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) to discover and deliver new chemical products and information systems for elimination ofinsect vectors of malaria and dengue. Oxitec obtained it s consortium funding from the Grand Challenges in Global Health, led by the Gates Foundation, in 2005