Friday, August 5, 2016

On Mutant Mosquitoes In Florida - They're More Afraid Of The Hero Than The Monster

For one thing, he knows the mosquito is the deadliest creature on earth, the No. 1 killer of humans. Every year sharks kill 10 people. Mosquitoes kill 725,000. The second-biggest killer is other humans, and still, they claim only 500,000 lives.


So much misinformation is out there. He doesn't know what to do anymore, except keep telling people: Male mosquitoes don't bite. If female mosquitoes are modified and bite you, they can't transfer their DNA. Your children won't become sterile. There is no way for the mosquitoes to mutate. This is unnatural, but it is safe. So many natural things can kill you. The bubonic plague. AIDS. If only he could shake them awake to Zika.


"There's a lot of information out there — some misinformation — and I want to cover a number of things." This is Michael Doyle, opening the June 22 meeting of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District board of commissioners.

The board typically meets in Marathon, but on this evening, given the topic, it's in the old city hall building in downtown Key West. When the doors open, you can hear the laughter from the bar on the corner, an old haunt of Ernest Hemingway's called Sloppy Joe's.

There is a full crowd, and Doyle plans to take advantage. He starts by reminding the people how deadly the mosquito is and how easy local transmission of Zika would be.

Doyle reminds his audience that DNA is not spread through a mosquito bite. When they eat hamburgers, they are exposed to billions of pieces of cow DNA. They do not become cows. Humans have been bitten by mosquitoes for all of history without taking on their genetic code.

He reminds them that he has a 12-year-old daughter. And that the trial isn't an experiment on humans. "It's how well can this mosquito crash the Aedes aegypti population," he says, reminding them that the FDA, CDC and EPA have found nothing dangerous to humans or the environment.

Then he turns the microphone over to the people.

"Arrogance," says Howard Hubbard.

"There hasn't been enough information," says Mike Tinnell.

"I just wish everybody would slow down a little bit," says Bill Spottswood.

"Experiments are done in a lab," says Gilda Niles.

"We need more boots on the ground," says Oliver Kofoid, and several other people, too.

"Zika is being used as a cover story and a smoke screen," says Diana Bolton.

"My childhood sweetheart didn't die in a war for us to be treated like this" says Jan Isherwood.

On and on and on. From their seats, Lorraine Phelps and her husband applaud.

The commissioners end up voting to let the people of Key West have their say on whether to proceed with Oxitec's technology in a referendum in November's election, the first time a matter of public health will be handed over to popular opinion.

Though the referendum is nonbinding, three of the five commissioners — the three up for election — have pledged to vote according to the people's will.

Derric Nimmo rises from his seat after the four-hour meeting, looking ahead to so much more work to do. Today his public relations mission was about goodwill. For the next four months, he will need to convince these people to keep Oxitec's trial alive.

And if he has learned anything in his time in the Keys, it's that misinformation spreads as easily as the disease.

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