Just hours before Florida Keys Mosquito Control District Executive Director Michael Doyle boarded a plane bound for the front lines of the Zika virus outbreak, he and the district board discussed efforts to keep the tropical disease out of the Florida Keys.
There have been 21 documented cases of the Zika virus in eight Florida counties in roughly the past month, but none are in Monroe County. The cases have all been people who traveled to Brazil and returned with the tropical disease, which is transferred by mosquitoes.
Doyle has been invited to speak at two separate conferences on Wednesday and Thursday in Brazil on Zika and other tropical diseases. Doyle, whose travel costs were paid for by the conferences’ organizers, was asked to speak about how his agency handled a dengue fever outbreak in the Florida Keys in 2009 and 2010.
He will also be speaking about what tools can be used to combat mosquitoes with tropical diseases and the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to eradicate mosquitoes and tropical diseases.
The district is in discussions with the private company Oxitec on conducting a test release of genetically modified aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry Zika and dengue fever. The male mosquitoes, which do not bite, would be breed so that when they mate with females the offspring would die shortly after being born.
When asked if he was concerned about contracting the tropical disease in Brazil, Doyle did not seem overly concerned. He said the area of the country the conference is in should have dry weather conditions, referring to it as the “Arizona of Brazil.”
“I do feel like I am soldier going to the front lines of the battle,” Doyle said. “They want to see what works and what doesn’t. Everyone is trying to resolve this issue, but no one has found a silver bullet.”
Before departing, Doyle and the district board discussed ways to further eradicate more mosquitoes and combating Zika. Doyle discussed hiring two temporary inspectors to battle mosquitoes.
The board wanted to make sure there was enough money to hire new people and ramp up the district’s efforts in the event the disease makes its way to the Florida Keys.
Also, the board discussed putting more pressure on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to allow aerial spraying of larvicide in the wildlife refuges in the Lower Keys in areas like No Name Key and Big Pine Key. Refuge officials have severely restricted the use of larvicides and pesticides in the refuges, as they are home to federally protected endangered species of butterflies.
Mosquito Control staff replied that such restrictions would probably not be lifted unless someone contracted a disease from a mosquito in the Keys.
Board member Steve Smith argued that Zika is not only a public health issue, but a documented case in the Keys could impact tourism.