Miami-Dade Releases Wolbachia Male Mosquitoes to Fight Zika

Miami-Dade County officially launched a mosquito reduction test program in a south Miami neighborhood that will release Wolbachia male mosquitoes through the summer.

The Kentucky firm MosquitoMate has begun releasing Wolbachia male mosquitoes, officially launching the Miami-Dade County Mosquito Reduction Test Program in the city of South Miami, as a preemptive fight against Zika virus in 2018. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved biotechnology product, sold as the ZAP Mosquito, will be released regularly in the Twin Lakes neighborhood through July.

According to a statement posted on the company's website, "The Wolbachia male mosquitoes do not bite or blood feed and are incapable of transmitting pathogens that cause human disease. The released male mosquitoes mate with female mosquitoes in the area, and the resulting eggs do not hatch, which can reduce the mosquito population that can transmit mosquito-borne viruses. MosquitoMate male mosquitoes are not genetically modified. Instead, the MosquitoMate method relies on Wolbachia, which is a naturally-occurring bacterium present in up to 60 percent of all the different species of insects around us, including some mosquitoes. It is not infectious and cannot be transmitted to any warm-blooded animals or humans."

The firm first tested its Wolbachia male mosquitoes in Clovis, California, in 2016 to see if the sterile males would mate with and infect local female Adeses aegypti, the mosquitoes that carry Zika virus.

The female mosquitoes lay sterile eggs, reducing their populations. And the company's Wolbachia male mosquitoes don't bite.

On WLRN radio, South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, William Petrie, director of the Miami-Dade Mosquito Control Division and Andrea Leal, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, reported that 666 million Wolbachia male mosquitoes will be released.

The way this works is you have to release a lot more of these males than existing natural males because you want these mosquitoes to be the ones to find the females, not the natural male. So you really have to swap out the natural male population and make it hard for our local male mosquitoes to get a date," explained Stoddard.

Leal noted the agency performed a Wolbachia male mosquitoes trial in 2017 in a 10 acre area of the Lower Keys.

"What we found is that the areas we chose were too close together. We were seeing a lot of mosquito movement. We learned how far they can fly, where are they going and about how many to release per week in our environment," she said.

Learn more about the Miami-Dade County Mosquito Reduction Test Program:

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