IRVINE, CA --A vector biologist at University of California, Irvine is creating mutant mosquitoes. By injecting the insects' DNA with antibodies taken from mice, Dr. Anthony James said he has successfully taken away their ability to spread malaria.
"We've given the mosquito a little piece of the mouse immune system that allows them to fight off human malaria, and it worked in the mosquito as well," said James.
Over the course of their experiment, James and his colleagues from University of California, San Diego found a 99 percent success rate in passing on the anti-malaria trait to the larvae. It's a result that gave James hope this science could be one part of saving millions of lives from one of the world's deadliest diseases.
"People working in the drug area, the vaccine area, and then those of us working with the vectors," James said. "Working together, I think we can have a big impact."
Though his work targets malaria, James believes they could replicate the results to deal with the rapidly spreading Zika virus. Another project, similar to this one, is underway in Brazil right now.
This week, the World Health Organization declared the virus and its suspected link to birth defects, a global health emergency.
"In both cases, both malaria and Zika, what we would expect to see would be fewer or no people getting infected, and few or no people getting sick," James explained.
James said there are critics to this and similar experiments focused on dealing with altering the genetics of a living creature and the impact on the environment. He said they're taking steps to ease those concerns and stated they've addressed the issues in their experiment.
"These are things that come from other places, and if we have an opportunity to sort of rid our environment of them, we're actually correcting the environment," said James.
James and his team are now looking for grants and funding for a $30 million, five-year project to release the mutant mosquitoes into the wild, and monitor their effect.
Common symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, according to the CDC. Approximately one in five people infected with the virus show symptoms. Severe complications from the virus that require hospitalization are rare, according to the CDC.
The virus has been associated with a rise of microcephaly, a type of birth defect. It has affected more than 4,000 babies in Brazil.
Health officials discourage pregnant women from traveling to Central or South America. If you must, they suggest wearing clothing and bug spray with DEET which will protect you. They are also urging you to eliminate any standing water around your home or workplace in order to limit the number of places in which mosquitos can breed.
Zika symptoms diagnosis and treatment from the CDC
- About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill (i.e., develop Zika).
- The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
- The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
- Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can be found longer in some people.
- Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
- Deaths are rare.
- The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya, diseases spread through the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika.
- See your healthcare provider if you develop the symptoms described above and have visited an area where Zika is found.
- If you have recently traveled, tell your healthcare provider when and where you traveled.
- Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses like dengue or chikungunya.
- No vaccine or medications are available to prevent or treat Zika infections.
Treat the symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration
- Take medicines, such as acetaminophen or paracetamol, to relieve fever and pain
- Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. Aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of hemorrhage (bleeding). If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
- If you have Zika, avoid mosquito bites for the first week of your illness.
- During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites.