Health concerns rise with 3rd Zika case

| 18/07/2016 | 49 Comments
Cayman News Service

Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes

(CNS): With three cases of the Zika virus now confirmed in the Cayman Islands, the delay in the planned release of bio-engineered mosquitoes to control the Aedes aegypti has fueled public health concerns. The release set for last Thursday was deferred when activists objecting to the proposed project to try and eliminate the invasive species using genetically modified male insects bred by the bio-technology company, Oxitec, managed to secure a court stay. Justice Ingrid Mangatal is expected to hear arguments for a judicial review of the decision to pursue the pilot project in court, Tuesday.

Activists are hoping to stop the planned project, which was due to start in the North West Point area of West Bay on Thursday, 14 July. They are concerned that Oxitec has not been fully transparent about the research and that the National Conservation Council licensed and approved the proposed released based only on research conducted by the UK-based bio technology firm. They are worried about the lack of public consultation and the concerns surrounding the gene technology.

However, the Mosquito Research and Control Unit is fully behind the release and believe the science is sound.

Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez has voiced concerns about the delay of the project in Cayman because of the Public Health Department’s obligation to protect the health, safety and well-being of all residents and visitors.

“That being said, I remain confident in the system of justice and it is my hope that both legally and scientifically all agencies will be permitted to move forward in implementing this worthwhile project,” he said in a release Monday.

MRCU Director Dr Bill Petrie echoed his sentiment: “Two weeks ago we had our first two confirmed imported cases of Zika and last week we had another confirmed imported case, making it more urgent than ever that we use all the tools at our disposal to provide vector control,” he said. “It is therefore regrettable that there is any delay to this project, which is being launched to deal with a public health imperative.”

Activists, however, hope the release can be indefinitely put on hold and some pf the objectors are asking the MRCU to consider alternatives, such as the release of bacteria infected insects that researchers in Australia have been working on for several years. Recent reports in the scientific press have revealed that mosquitoes harboring the Wolbachia bacterium in pilot studies in Colombia, Brazil, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia helped control the spread of dengue virus as the bacteria appears to prevent the mosquitoes from spreading disease.

Described as a self-sustainable and very low-cost approach for controlling mosquito-borne viral diseases, the research has been endorsed by the World Health Organization’s Vector Control Advisory Group, paving the way for scientists to conduct further scaled up pilot studies.

However, this method is not without controversy of its own. Research has indicated that mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia are more likely to become infected with West Nile virus and more likely to transmit the virus to humans.

Addendum: A spokesperson for the Eliminate Dengue programme headed by Professor Scott O’Neill, stated, “We wish to clarify that there is an overwhelming body of evidence that stably infected Wolbachia infections show no evidence of enhancement of human pathogens. Our Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are stably infected with Wolbachia, which means that the Wolbachia has been associated with the mosquito for a large number of generations. Stable Wolbachia infections in mosquitoes have only been shown to block dengue and other pathogens including, chikungunya, Zika and West Nile virus.

“The research mentioned in your article looked at West Nile virus infection shortly after a different mosquito species (Culex tarsalis) is artificially injected with Wolbachia. It is hard to compare results from this study to our data with stably infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes (the species considered the primary vector for both dengue and Zika viruses).”
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Category: Health, Land Habitat, Medical, Science & Nature

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The Doomsday scenario:

    Zika produces mild or no symptoms in the vast majority of those who contract it. We have already had 3 confirmed cases, which means that statistically there are likely many times more people in Cayman who have the disease, (know anyone who avoids going to the hospital unless they are REALLY sick? ) If any one of them is bitten by the Aedes egypti mosquito, (which is prevalent in West Bay) then local transmission is virtually inevitable. It is already established in almost all of our neighboring countries.

    Zica will be locally transmitted. That is a fact that is about to happen. When this occurs, as it will, pregnant women will likely have babies that suffer from reduced brain and head size (micro-encephalitis). These babies will be a social and financial burden on these islands for their entire lives.

    Tourists considering having a family will cancel or postpone visits to these islands, causing a dramatic drop in visitor arrivals.

    That is just Zica, Dengue and Chikungunya personally frighten me far more. I have had the former, and it is frightening. I seriously doubt I would survive another infection. The same mosquito that carries Zica transmits those two as well. Dengue is an old foe in this part of the world, and has evolved fatal hemorrhagic forms. Chikungunya is a newer arrival but I understand it to be debilitating and slow to completely recover from.

    We have at our free disposal the opportunity to prove an effective means of fighting these risks, and we are dithering, because of unfounded, unscientific opposition by activists, pander to the public on the fear of being used as “lab rats”. This same technology has just been credited for reducing Dengue in a Brazilian municipality by 91% compared to the previous year.

    This is proven science, and I would far rather trust the scientists of the MRCU who have created Cayman’s tourism success story over many decades, by using available scientific methods to reduce the mosquito nuisance, than be guided by political activists and other dubious opponents.

    Potential risks associated with the GMO mosquitoes are speculative, and not supported by good science. The alternative is not a risk, It is the inevitable loss of lives and health to adults that become infected with the multiple diseases bourne by the Aedes egypti mosquito. Add to that the incalculable cost of caring for mentally compromised children due to micro-encephalitis, and the inevitable burden on their families.

    The other side of this scenario is to embrace the GMO technology, prevent/cease the spread of local transmission of Zika in Cayman, and be able to market ourselves to the world as a safe tourist destination with no chance of local contraction of an ever increasing list of Aedes egypti bourne diseases, including Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya.


  2. satirony says:

    I’m relieved to hear that Dwene Ebanks is rescuing me from the dangers of inhaling a sterilized Aedes Aegypti mosquito. I’m told they can even tickle your throat as they slip down just before they kill you. No, I’ll take Chikungunya, Zika, Yellow Fever and Dengue any day over a finding myself turned into an involuntary ‘Guinea Pig’ in an encounter with a sterile, non-biting mosquito. (Even Monty Python recognized the dangers of mosquitoes, when the South African big game hunter warned, and I quote, “there’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded mosquito. A pair of mosquito wings can fetch up to half a cent in the London market.”)

    I think I’ll go and munch on one of Monsanto’s GMO corn cobs to calm my nerves. Well, you can’t find any natural ones these days, can you? Those transgenic bacterial genes and the insecticides they produce, the traces of Glyphosate as well as the genes that render the corn plant immune to the Glyphosate in ‘Roundup’, not to mention the fragments of Mosaic Virus DNA that have recently been discovered in corn, should make an interesting snack. I’ll have to eat two cobs though, as the nutrient level is half that of the natural ones. I’ll might turn into a frog with cat’s whiskers and bat’s wings, but that’s just a chance I’ll have to take.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Now about flies? I hate them more than I hate mosquitoes. And they transmit many more diseases at once.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Let me get this straight. You would rather be an experimented on with diseased (virus infected) mosquitoes that can reproduce and bite you versus the GM mosquito…where is your head at…fools talk foolishness…sounds a lot like foolishness.

  5. T11 says:

    And one would think that our government would have had at least a degree of respect for the democracy of their own people by having truthful and clear information about this project given to the general public, and at least have a series of meetings to lessen concerns…

    But no … sadly, instead I am hearing how the general public criticize the government projects too much! And hence they don’t deserve the opportunities and time to properly question the government. Instead our beloved MLAs went ahead and APPROVED this project into law – a test upon the people as guinea pigs!

    It was rushed!

  6. Anonymous says:

    To me its not coincidental that just a few days after the release is stopped, a new zika case suddenly appears. This is propaganda to keep you afraid.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Liberalism is the AIDS of the mind.

  8. Anonymous says:

    There hasn’t been a single case of Zika contacted in Cayman! All have been imported! Releasing Frankin Bugs to fight something that doesn’t exist is madness. Mount Trashmore is more of a threat to our health.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, only so far they have been imported. No one here said “oh there hasn’t been a case of ebola so we don’t need to prepare for the chance there could be.”

      • Anonymous says:

        …and what of the possibility of a resurgence of dinosaurs. We better build a wall now before the dinosaurs won’t let us!

        • Anonymous says:

          If dinosaurs had already resurged in the following countries I would agree with your asinine, ignorant, mocking comment.

          Anguilla; Aruba; Barbados; Bonaire; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Jamaica; Martinique; Puerto Rico, Saint Barthelemy; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; St Eustatius; St Maarten; Trinidad and Tobago; US Virgin Islands, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama.

          That is a list of countries that already have CDC Zika advisories; practically the entire region!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Literary speaking, why can’t these scientist go to another country to release these endanger species that they want to experiment here? Once release it is not only going to be a danger to our lifestyle, but also against humanity. They want us to think we are scienctifically illiterate. Needless to say i did my research on this experiment. It was disheartening to say the least. The results startle me, the results will be unprecedented. Starting with…Outbreaks of different diseases will be upon us, if this is the case and I hope you Caymanians are taking heed and listening. The government is all about politics and playing ping pong games with our lives. Thank God a protest had started and put this serious matter intact. Now they are trying to bring the 3 Zika virus cases we have in Cayman to try and tell us if we don’t continue this matter there will be consequences. Playing the sympathy card again on the people? We are not going to buy into it anymore. This is all a conspiracy against the people. Cancer rates are very high why? The government is a sellout start asking them about chemtrails? People do your research and don’t let them fool you. Have a nice day!

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, please do your research as it seems you are just reading propaganda.

    • Anonymous says:

      Think you just dealt with the “scientifically illiterate” thesis.

    • anonymous says:

      I agree. The Cayman Islands population is too small to experiment on it, but that is exactly why they want to release it here. In case something goes wrong, the island is surrounded by water and is remote from larger groups of people, so the entire population would be easily quarantined.
      And you absolutely right about new unknown diseases illnesses that might sprout from this experiment.
      Better take what is known then unknown. After all Zika don’t kill en masse and it is not proven that deformed babies are result of zika

  10. Anonymous says:

    Yes it is. It was used in Australia etc already and the USA want tonuse this method. If US says no to GM and yes to bacteria then that says alot, less risk and unknowns. As said we dont have West Nile virus here so a win win. GM outcome is unknown look at Brazil it was just made worse. Wake up people. Kick Oxitec iut of here like the rest of the world has done albeit ‘ you fired’

    • Anonymous says:

      A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You are proposing a technique that has a lot of potential risk. Please read up on a subject before recommending a technique that is highly likely to select for highly virulent strains of dengue. This is why the decision to go with Oxitec was left to the experts. They have the training and knowledge to consider all the available options and go with what they consider to be the safest and best option. Do you think the public should be consulted on every decision that the government makes? The Government was elected to make decisions that are in the best interest of the people. They are guided in their decisions by experts in the various fields. The arguments that have been put forward over the last few months show that they made the right choice to leave this decision to the experts. It is obvious that a certain small section of the community will always be opposed to anything the government does. These people cannot be allowed to put the public at risk due to their ignorance or paranoia. How can people with no training in a subject put themselves forward as experts on a subject they know nothing about; especially when it involves something as serious as a disease that causes brain damage in children.

  11. Anonymous says:

    smart people will try something new to learn something new. Dumb people just do the same thing over and over. Watch as Bush gets re-elected. Caymanians do not like to look to the future. They can only see the past. In the future they will be held accountable for their past.

  12. Alan says:

    I support the Oxitec project but I am opposed to any release of Wolbacia in Cayman. Wolbacia does prevent the dengue virus being transmitted if the viremic dose that the mosquito injects is low. If the mosquito feeds on someone with a high viremia then the virus can still be transmitted by the mosquito. This means that if Wolbacia is released then we will be selecting for strains of dengue that cause high viremia and more severe symptoms. Unlike the Oxitec mosquito the Wolbacia infected mosquitoes can reproduce which means they cant be stopped if something goes wrong.

    • T11 says:

      Listen! If you support this Oxitec project, you are supporting a process by which it was made into law without proper public consultation!

      It is time to stand up against those who want to CENSOR OR AVOID the exercise of freedom of speech and public opinion! Stand up against the wishes of the elite who want to come here and use us just to make the almighty dollar!

      We have to hold our MLAs accountable! Why wasn’t there an independent assessment done to begin with? How will this effect our people and our eco-system?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Can the MRCU scientist tell us what they believe the population of the Aedes Aegypti on Grand Cayman is and what is the estimated population in the area of West Bay they want to release the GMM in

    • They won't answer this question says:

      Of course the MRCU will refuse to answer this question like they have been doing since the beginning!

  14. Anonymous says:

    This is an election year oh what a year.

    Now that Caymanians of all age groups in various ways are growing some balls, speaking their mind and actually resisting to these tyrants, what song will the fiddle man play to make the election tally come his way?

    Releasing these monsters on your own people is the wrong song selecta.


  15. Anonymous says:

    Last week on BBC news it was that there is still unanswered questions about the zika virus do they MRCU and
    Dr. In the health service read that.then would then tell us what it said.

  16. Unison says:

    In the past we have had Chickingunya scares and other sort of scares and it hasn’t kill any of us …

    But (here is the psychology) we must all of a sudden respond to 3 Zika scares, pushing for an experiment on our own people without independent assessments???

    … smh … truly amazing! 🙂

    • David Shibli says:

      Here we go again. Unison you are absolutely right. The first article goes up on CNS and the opponents to being lab rats gave as good as they got, if not better.

      Now this has been escalated to the feverish pitch of a national emergency and another article magically pops up implying that we are running out of time.

      No, we are not running out of time. We are not afraid of the fear-mongering and we will continue to stand against the dubious science of Oxitec aided and abetted by Alden McLaughlin and his XXXXX government.


      And while we are on the subject, can anyone tell me ONE THING that Alden McLaughlin has done to benefit the people of the Cayman Islands since becoming Premier?

      No to Oxitec, No to Alden and yes to democracy.

      True Caymanians and honorary Caymanians, keep standing strong.

      • Anonymous says:

        Checking around with the suffering local population there are many who don’t know we have a premier… Can’t see him. What a tight lipped fellow.

        Does every corner need a Master Masonic lodge in order to score a chance of seeing mr faithful?

        • David Shibli says:

          The Lodge is a very small but powerful minority in the Cayman Islands. What they have failed to realize is that the people are on to them.
          There is a groundswell of Caymanians who are sick and tired of their country being sold out by the Lodge. Alden McLaughlin sold his soul to the Lodge a few years ago.
          Give him credit though, he went from a baby Lodge to a master in 2 years. That takes a lot of dedication.
          Alas, he forgot to inform the electorate, most of whom would never have voted for him knowing where he stood.
          Alden, the game is over.
          The next time you stand, please tell the Caymanian people where your loyalties really lie.

          • NotNice says:

            Much respect, David. I agree completely.

          • Unison says:

            Hmmm … you say he “went from a baby Lodge to a master in 2 years.”

            If your claim is true. Then that’s interesting because you just don’t climb a masonic ladder so quickly in 2 years unless you are a valuable asset or have something big to offer!

      • Anonymous says:

        Oh, ok, since Mr Shibli writes “no to Alden”, we know he is motivated by politics and not science.

        • David Shibli says:

          I appreciate the comment, but unfortunately it is not true. I have never voted in my life. I have never been part of any political party. All I want is some honest leaders to stand up and actually make a difference for this fantastic place. I don’t care whether you are left, right or somewhere in the middle. People’s basic needs have never changed and any politician that has the courage to stand up for the average people and not special interests has my full support.

          We are so privileged to be living here. Democratically elected Government should serve the people not dictate the law.

      • Alan says:

        I do not think it is good to use the Oxitec project as a political football to attack the current government. This is a Pubic Health issue that should be kept out of politics.

        • David Shibli says:

          I agree that it is a public health issue and if the government had been a little more forthright from the beginning, this debacle would not be happening.
          Government seems to be flexing its muscle and telling us that is is their way or the highway. They are using the media to spread fear implying that a company who is engaged in a financial contract with them don’t get their way, we will all end up with shrunken heads, boils and cysts in strange places.
          Joking aside, you are 100% correct, public health and politics should not be intertwined.

          In closing, I would submit to you that there are other ways to tackle this issue and let us explore all options as a democratic, intelligent nation.
          Fear should never be used as a political weapon.

          • Anonymous says:

            I disagree. There is no debacle happening. Yes there are a few very vocal opponents but the truth is any society has these people. The vast majority of Caymanians are in favor of this technique. This was reflected by a total lack of support in court today for the two Anti-Oxitec campaigners.

  17. Anonymous says:

    The GMM is NOT an overnight cure, as some seem to think. This is a months’ long project and the outcome is not sure.

  18. Anonymous says:

    We don’t have West Nile here. Mosquitoes transmit what they are exposed to*

    • Anonymous says:

      West Nile yet you meant to say.
      Which is irrelevant, the point is that the Wolbachia is as ‘experimental’ if not more so than the Oxitec method. While the Wolbachia does hold great promise and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become commonplace in a few years that’s a ways off yet. And there is always the risk (as pointed out a the end of the article) that the Wolbachia is not as ‘broad spectrum’ as the Oxitec solution of killing off the mosquitoes.

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