WHO Considering Genetic Modification to Wipe Out Zika Virus

This January 2016 image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that has been linked in Brazil to a large number of cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect. Infants with microcephaly have smaller than normal heads and their brains do not develop properly. (Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC via AP)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Zika virus is continuing to spread across the Americas, but instead of going after the disease itself, the World Health Organization is considering a new solution: genetic modification.

The World Health Organization said the controversial method could successfully kill the mosquitoes that carry it.

The Zika virus has already spread to at least 30 different countries, and the WHO says if the trend continues, 3 to 4 million people are at risk of being infected by the end of the year.

Despite its rapid spread, many environmentalists are arguing genetic modification could end up doing more harm than good.

American International College Biology Professor Charles Boyd told 22News he’s not sure genetic modification would be a safe solution. “A genetic modification for mosquitoes might even make the virus more dangerous to people,” he said.

A biotech company is developing genetically modified, sterile male mosquitoes.

The company claims the trials have cut the population of the disease-carrying mosquitoes up to 90% in 6 months.

Bob Russell of American Pest Control in Springfield told 22News he’s still skeptical. “I think it would be difficult because any mosquitoes released into the environment would have to be able to compete better than wildlife mosquitoes, which itself seems unlikely,” he said.

Russell also said it’s impossible to know the long-term effects of wiping out an entire insect population. “If you take out a specific type of insect in the eco-system, others will fill its place. They may not be the ones you want to fill its place, that’s the biggest concern,” he said.

Genetic modification supporters say it’s worth trying since the virus is spreading so rapidly.

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