Bug board convenes experts for advice

When it comes to zapping the population of disease-carrying bugs in the Florida Keys, mosquito control officials have several options.

So on Feb. 20, a panel of experts will talk about those options at a workshop in front of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board.

Presenters will include David Hoel, assistant director of Lee County Mosquito Control, talking about sterilized mosquitoes through irradiation; Stephen Dobson of MosquitoMate, speaking about Wolbachia-infected bugs; Derric Nimmo of Oxitec talking about its genetically modified mosquitoes; Dr. John Norris of Key West; and Dr. Carlos Espinal, director of Florida International University’s Global Health Consortium.

Last month, a delayed conversation began about the potential for British biotec company Oxitec to release its genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys this year.

According to its website, Oxitec’s male mosquitoes are reared with a self-limiting gene, so when the males are released into the wild to mate with females, that gene is passed on and the offspring never survive to adulthood. This results in a smaller population of Aedes aegypti bugs, officials say, which carry Zika and other viruses.

The trial needs approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Norris is part of a group of Lower Keys doctors on a quest to get a sample of Oxitec’s mosquitoes to see what kind of bacteria is on them. He told commissioners he visited with officials in the Cayman Islands where Oxitec started releases in summer 2016. He wants data about antibiotic resistance seen in people living in the trial site, which he will talk about Feb. 20.

Dobson will talk about a different a trial that happened last year to drive down Aedes aegypti bugs on Stock Island. Thousands of mosquitoes infected with the natural bacteria Wolbachia were released there from April to October and the goal was to have them mate with wild bugs so their eggs wouldn’t hatch, driving down the wild population.

Results from the Wolbachia trial have not yet been released.

The workshop will start at 1 p.m. at Mosquito Control's building at 503 107th St., Marathon.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219