Landmark Project to Control Disease Carrying Mosquitoes Kicks Off in the Florida Keys

  • Collaboration between Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) and Oxitec is evaluating the effectiveness of Oxitec's safe, non-biting male mosquitoes as a control method for the invasive, disease-spreading Aedes aegypti mosquito in the Florida Keys
  • The Aedes aegypti makes up just 4% of the mosquito population in the Keys, but is responsible for virtually all of the disease transmission
  • Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit dengue, Zika and other diseases in people and heartworm and other deadly diseases to pets and animals

KEY WEST, Fla., April 29, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- A groundbreaking project conducted jointly by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) and Oxitec started this week after a decade of planning, public engagement and regulatory approvals.

Over the next few months, six locations in the Florida Keys will host Oxitec's male Aedes aegypti release boxes that will slowly release their self-limiting, male mosquitoes. Like all male mosquitoes, Oxitec's mosquitoes DO NOT BITE. Oxitec's males are intended to reduce the number of potentially disease-transmitting female Aedes aegypti.

This project comes more than a decade after FKMCD first invited Oxitec to pilot its technology in the Keys. The project has received required regulatory approvals from federal and state regulators, including approvals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). In August 2020 the FKMCD Board of Commissioners approved the project. Extensive public consultation, education and engagement has been carried out and community support for the project remains high.

Andrea Leal, Executive Director Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, said, "Our primary mission is to protect residents in the Florida Keys from all mosquitoes including the disease-transmitting Aedes aegypti. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District remains committed to seeking out, environmentally-friendly and targeted tools to protect our residents and to preserve our wildlife."

"With full approval from the US EPA and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as support from the US Centers for Disease Control and an independent advisory board, we are now eager to see the project progress over the coming months," she said.

Grey Frandsen, Oxitec's CEO, said, "We're thankful for the opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of Oxitec's technology with such an outstanding partner. The challenges posed by disease-spreading mosquitoes is growing, not shrinking, making this pilot project a major step forward in bringing Oxitec's safe, self-limiting technology to the US."

Oxitec's Aedes aegypti technology is part of an expanding line of Oxitec technologies being developed to deliver safe, targeted biological control of pests. Oxitec's self-limiting technology has been deployed successfully around the world against major agricultural and public health pests.

Oxitec's just-add-water Aedes aegypti technology was successfully proven in the State of São Paulo, Brazil in 2019, where after just 13 weeks of treatment, the technology suppressed up to 95% of Aedes aegypti. In May 2020, Oxitec received full biosafety approval for this technology from Brazil's national biosafety regulatory authority CTNBio after demonstrating the technology's full safety to human health and the environment. Independent research found community support for the project was overwhelmingly high, with 94% of residents surveyed in favor of Oxitec's mosquito technology and its use in their neighborhoods.

In April, 2021, Oxitec announced that The Wellcome Trust awarded Oxitec $6.8 million in funding to scale up its Aedes aegypti technology.

About the Aedes aegypti:

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is an increasingly global threat, now living alongside half of the world's population. After decades of effort, there is still no cure or specific treatment for many diseases transmitted by the Aedes aegypti, and public health agencies are trying to stop these devastating diseases at their common source: by controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito itself.

Unfortunately, existing methods of controlling Aedes aegypti, such as spraying or fogging using chemical insecticides, have failed to stop the spread of disease. This is partly because Aedes aegypti has developed resistance to insecticides, rendering many common chemicals ineffective at killing the mosquito. This project will demonstrate that Oxitec's mosquitoes can be used as a stand-alone control program or as part of an integrated pest management program to suppress Aedes aegypti in the Florida Keys in a way that is safe for humans, animals, and the environment.

Notes for the media:

About Oxitec's Aedes aegypti technology:

Oxitec's non-biting male mosquito was designed to control the invasive, disease spreading Aedes aegypti. It has successfully provided significant suppression of the wild Aedes aegypti in other geographies and does not persist in the environment or cause harm to beneficial insects like bees and butterflies.

This technology also removes all requirements for adult mosquito-rearing and releases, and eliminates the potential for female releases. Combined with other innovations, this technology is anticipated to reduce up to 90% of costs associated with traditional insect release programs.

Similar projects in the Brazilian city of Indaiatuba found that Oxitec's mosquito suppressed disease-carrying Aedes aegypti by up to 95%[1] in urban, dengue-prone environments following just 13 weeks of treatment, as compared to untreated control sites in the same city.

Additional resources:

1. 95% was the high 2-week rolling average and the individual weekly high was 98%; the highest 4-week rolling average was 92%.

About Aedes aegypti in Florida

  • Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are an invasive species in Florida and other parts of the U.S.
  • In recent years, the Florida Keys has seen locally transmitted cases of dengue and travel-related cases of Zika.

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