Dengue Fever: FDA Approval Sought for Release of Genetically Engineered Mosquito’s

Updated 12/08/2012 at 7:35am PST by Jim Donahue

Officials in Florida are seeking FDA approval for a plan to eliminate mosquito’s carrying the Dengue Fever virus, by releasing millions of genetically modified mosquito’s.

The British Biotech company Oxitec, has developed the genetically engineered mosquito’s, and is seeking FDA oversight and approval for the release.

The mosquito’s have a genetically engineered birth defect, and when bread with the wild female Dengue Fever infected mosquito, produces eggs which will die before maturing.

Shelly Burgess, a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration, told “We cannot speculate as to when a decision will be made, but no genetically engineered animals of any species that FDA regulates will be released in the United States, including for the purposes of field trials, without appropriate regulatory oversight.”

Recent outbreaks of Dengue Fever on the Isle of Madeira, Portugal have European Health Officials worried. A similar outbreak has taken hold in India, with Government Health Ministers trying to ignore the findings.

In Europe, travelers returning from holiday are reportedly seeking medical attention for the Dengue Fever virus.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that The Portuguese Health Ministry had reported over 1,300 confirmed cases of the disease, with 600 more probable cases additionally. Portugal, France, Britain, Sweden and Germany reported that vacationers had been diagnosed with the virus upon returning from the Portuguese Island of Madeira.

Similar outbreaks have been reported in the Canary Islands and on the Island of Cape Verde, all archipelago’s off the western African coast.

On the Island of Cape Verde, The World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting more than 16, 000 cases have been attributed to the island since 2009.

The news is even worse for the population of India.

Indian Government Officials have reported that 30,000 people in India have been diagnosed with Dengue Fever through October of this year. This is a 60 percent rise from calendar year 2011, when a total of 18,860 cases were reported. Hundreds of thousands of cases go unreported each year, and this underreporting policy has its roots at the highest levels of the Indian government.

The problem with that policy, said Dr. Manish Kakkar, an official from the Public Health Foundation of India, is that the “massive underreporting of cases” is the major factor contributing to the disease’s spread.

“There is no denying that the actual number of cases would be much, much higher,” adding, “Our interest has not been to arrive at an exact figure.”

Dr. Scott Halstead, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD said, “I’d conservatively estimate that there are 37 million dengue infections occurring every year in India, and maybe 227,500 hospitalizations.”

“When you look at the number of reported cases India has, it’s a joke,” said Dr. Harold S. Margolis, chief of the dengue branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Dengue Fever is an infectious tropical disease, caused by a virus of the same name. In 80 percent of cases, the affected patient encounters only a minor fever and flu-like symptoms, muscle and joint pain, and a skin rash akin to Measles, generally dismissing these symptoms, and recovering in about 10 days to 2 weeks.

The other 20 percent are not so lucky. These patients develop Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, which can result in bleeding, blood plasma discharge, and dangerously low blood platelet levels. And stage 2 puts the patient into shock, were a major blood pressure drop occurs, and is usually fatal.

“The global dengue problem is far worse than most people know, and it keeps getting worse,” said Dr. Raman Velayudhan, the World Health Organization’s Dengue Director.

Genetic Engineering of potential vectors of illness and infection is a new strategy in this area, and needs to be studied extensively.

Article by Jim Donahue