Zika Virus causing microcephaly in Brazil
Releasing genetically-modified mosquitoes to limit the mosquito population
Now, Brazilian health officials have reported a sharp increase in cases of microcephaly, a rare condition which an infant’s head is abnormally small, experts say they strongly suspect that the Zika virus is to blame and they’ve revealed today that there have been more than 4,000 suspected cases since the start of last year.
Researchers are using new genetic technology to try to contain the spread of the virus by mosquitoes as our South American correspondent tells us.
Releasing hundreds of thousands of fertile mosquitoes into the suburbs of Brazil’s biggest city in the middle of a mosquito-driven health crisis. It might seem perverse but these genetically-modified Aedes aegyptii. The very species responsible for transmitting Zika and and Dengue Fever. When they mate, they’ll pass on a self-limiting gene which will stop them maturing into breeding adults.
Scientist “Here we just have freshly-hatched-eggs, we have some really tiny larvae in their first days of life.”
This British-owned lab says the technique has reduced by over 90% the number of mosquitoes in some areas. Fed on a smelly mixture of fish food and sheep’s blood, mosquito production is in overdrive.
This technology was developed in the UK, and indeed, all of these mosquitoes are descendants of eggs brought over from Oxford in 2002. Now, they produce about two million male mosquitoes here every week. and they’re released into the general population to help in the fight against viruses like Zika and dengue.
Zika’s suspected of being responsible for a surge in microcephaly in Brazil, confirmed cases have almost doubled and suspected ones are much higher.
The government’s announced help for poorer families, but the wider financial and social impact could be huge.
At San Paulo’s renowned Butantan Institute they’re famous for research into anti-venom and the production of biopharmaceuticals. Now, there’s a new priority, finding a vaccine for Zika and they’re starting from scratch.
Alexander Precioso, Director of Clinical Trials, Butantan Institute “We still need to describe and discover a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, for example. But we do have the hypothesis that that relationship basically is true, but again, we need to demonstrate in order, to even guide us, to develop the best treatment or the best vaccine”
Trying to keep calm in the final weeks of pregnancy is not easy is not easy for expectant mothers in Brazil.
Ana Cuellar “At the beginning we were very worried, my husband kept putting repellant on me all day”
Developing a Zika vaccine could take ten years and with so much uncertainty about the illness, it’s a time of real anxiety for many Brazilians.
This was an item on the BBC News at Ten on 27th Jan 2016