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Doctor proposes Key Haven nasal swabs if GM mosquitoes released

The motto of many Key Haven residents when it comes to the possible release of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Lower Keys neighborhood is “no consent,” meaning they don’t consent to a release.

A Key West doctor, though, wants consent — to monitor some Key Haven residents’ health over several years to see what effect such a release has on them.

“They could release millions of mosquitoes dripping with germs that are not natural to the environment,” Dr. John W. Norris III said.

Norris asked the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board Wednesday to consider the impact of British biotech company Oxitec releasing GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus. Oxitec says the offspring of its GM mosquitoes die almost immediately, resulting in a smaller population of Aedes aegypti. The mosquitoes are genetically engineered to need the antibiotic tetracycline to survive.

“Oxitec has turned a very valuable antibiotic into mosquito milk. They’ve created a mosquito that is a crackhead for tetracycline,” Norris told the Keynoter.

Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics after exposure to too much or too little, so the surviving bacteria can become even more powerful and resistant to medicine down the road. Oxitec has refused to provide a sample of mosquitoes to the doctors, citing federal regulations, Norris said.

It’s the bacteria that may be riding on the backs of the mosquitoes that Norris and roughly 30 other doctors fear. They worry about a potential outbreak of MRSA, a bacterium responsible for infections that are tough to treat in humans and filed a petition with the Mosquito Control District in August against the release.

But if the bug board votes for the release (the federal government has already signed off on it), Norris hope that of the 460 residents in Key Haven, 100 will sign a waiver for a trial to have their noses swabbed periodically.

“If they let us do these swabs, we could track every several months what’s going on as far as their bacterial count,” Norris said. The swabs would be sent to Dr. Barry Kreiswirth, professor and director of the Laboratory for Molecular Drug Resistance at Rutgers University in New Jersey, for examination.

If approved, the Oxitec trial will last for a maximum two years but the swab research could last from three to five years, Norris said, because if the germs on the mosquitoes match an outbreak of MRSA, it could be tracked back to Oxitec’s mosquitoes.

Norris said the research details are being finalized in preparation for the results of two nonbinding referendums on Nov. 8 and the final decision of the Mosquito Control District board over the release. Keys residents will vote for or against the release of the mosquitoes in Key Haven. One vote is for Key Haven residents, the other for voters countywide.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219

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