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Everything you need to know about the zika virus in South Florida.

Sterile Mosquito Test Moving Forward In Keys

Nancy Klingener
The Florida Keys already have an aggressive mosquito control program, with house-to-house inspections. Soon the area will be testing new mosquito fighting methods.

Florida has not had any locally transmitted cases of Zika so far in 2017. And the number of travel-related cases has fallen drastically in the dry season.

But tests of new mosquito-fighting methods are still moving forward in the Florida Keys.

The first U.S. trial of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the kind that carries Zika and dengue fever — is still on track for the Keys, just not on Key Haven. That's the island that Oxitec, the company that makes the genetically modified mosquito, chose for its test site.

That site was in Oxitec's application to the FDA, which released a finding of no significant impact, allowing the trial to go forward. But voters on Key Haven rejected the trial in a November referendum and the Keys Mosquito Control District told Oxitec to find another site.

Now Oxitec has resubmitted its application to the FDA, including the entire Keys. Oxitec's mosquitoes are genetically modified so that when the males mate with wild females, the larvae they produce will fail.

Meanwhile, another company with another method of mosquito birth control is moving ahead in the Keys with its first trial in Florida. Mosquito Mate releases males infected with a certain kind of Wolbachia bacteria. When those males mate with wild females that don't have the same kind of bacteria, the females don't reproduce.

The company and district plan to conduct the trial on Stock Island, which is between Key West and Key Haven. Releases are expected to start in mid-April and will likely last for three to four months, with approximately 20,000 male mosquitoes released twice a week.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.