Scientists warn Zika virus could become ‘explosive pandemic’ as plans to unleash genetically modified mosquitoes move forward

Worldwide pandemic feared as Zika outbreak spreads across 20 countries

(INTELLIHUB) — U.S. scientists are warning that the Zika virus could soon become an “explosive pandemic” while urging the World Health Organization to take so-called urgent action to combat the virus already causing panic across the Americas.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, authors Daniel R. Lucey and Lawrence O Gostin detailed the WHO’s past failures at acting early to prevent the spread of Ebola, which they claim probably cost thousands of lives.

In an attempt to stop a similar untold number of extra deaths with the Zika virus, the scientists advised the WHO to convene an emergency committee of disease experts while calling out the infamous global health agency for not taking a leadership role in what they describe as the Zika pandemic.

Despite internal reforms, however, WHO is still not taking a leadership role in the Zika pandemic. On January 18, WHO said it is “supporting countries to control Zika,” citing the need for surveillance, laboratories, vector control, and clinical care. Yet, the global dimensions of Zika are quite clear, with fresh urgency as the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro loom.

Despite the global threat, the WHO director-general has not convened an IHR Emergency Committee to advise countries on critical issues such as vector control, health system preparedness, travel advisories, and avoiding punitive measures.

An emergency committee should be convened immediately to advise the director-general about the conditions necessary to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The very process of convening the committee would catalyze international attention, funding, and research. While Brazil, PAHO, and the CDC have acted rapidly, WHO headquarters has thus far not been proactive, given potentially serious ramifications.

Convening an emergency committee does not mean that the director-general should declare a PHEIC. WHO, for example, convened an emergency committee on 10 occasions to review global data on the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Yet the emergency committee has not advised to declare a PHEIC for MERS but has offered detailed recommendations to guide member states. The director-general has the sole authority under the IHR to convene an emergency committee, and she is uniquely empowered to declare a PHEIC subject to the committee’s advice.

The director-general was widely criticized for waiting 4 months after the first cross-border transmission of Ebola before declaring a PHEIC.8,9 A key lesson learned from that searing experience was the need for an intermediate-level response to emerging crises, thus avoiding overreaction while still galvanizing global action. Functionally, the director-general could achieve a similar result by convening an emergency committee on Zika virus. The international community cannot afford to wait for WHO to act.

The Zika virus, already infecting thousands of people across 20 countries, has been linked to shrunken brains in children and has no cure.

With a potential vaccine at least 2 years away and the WHO estimating that some 4 million people could become infected, some companies and governments are turning to a radical form of genetic engineering to combat the outbreak.

Swarms of genetically engineered mosquitoes

Biologists at the biotech firm Oxitec are planning to fight the spread of Zika by unleashing their own version of mosquitoes into the wild, mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered to carry a gene that causes offspring to die before they can breed.

According to a report in Yahoo News, the company has created a genetically modified breed of the mosquito species that is primarily responsible for spreading the virus. Oxitec plans to release this genetically modified version, OX513A, into the wild where the GM bugs will then mate with females and produce offspring that never fully mature and thus hopefully leading to a major reduction in the mosquito population.

“It’s basically the biological equivalent fighting fire with fire. To stop the spread of a disease that causes birth defects, we’re essentially using genetic engineering to give mosquitoes birth defects. And it’s highly effective too — Oxitec has reportedly seen a 90 percent reduction in mosquito populations in a number of different trial locations across the globe,” reported Drew Prindle.

Although the company has already touted success with the GM mosquitoes in limited releases across Latin America and Asia, no one in mainstream media or scientific circles seems to be worried about the potential consequences of unleashing genetically modified bugs across the planet.

While one would never want to be paranoid to the point that it stops scientific advancement, it does make sense to point out that in the past biotech firms have seemingly cared very little about the side effects of genetic modification and one can only hope that this is not the case here.

What do you think?

Do you support unleashing GM mosquitoes on the planet in an effort to stop the spread of the Zika virus and other mosquito born dangers?

Alex Thomas is a reporter and opinion journalist who has worked in the alternative media for over three years. His work has been featured on numerous news outlets including Infowars and RT. Alex is an exclusive weapon of Intellihub. Established in 2013, is ranked in the upper 1% traffic tier on the World Wide Web. Read more articles from Alex’s Side.