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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has joined the fight against the Zika virus through a $30 million investment in efforts to stop the spread of the virus linked to severe birth defects.
The group – which launched a challenge open to the public asking for ideas to fight the virus – has their winners which span from human-scented mosquito traps to drones to apps that can tell you what mosquito is around you. Out of nearly 900 submissions, only 26 made the cut.
“The $30 million challenge called upon the global innovator community to generate cutting-edge approaches to fight the current Zika outbreak and to help strengthen the world’s ability to prevent, detect, and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks, ” said Wendy Taylor, USAID Director for Accelerating Innovation and Impact in Global Health.
One of the big winners was Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones.
“One of the things we’re doing for drones with Zika is thinking about drones as a new delivery mechanism to support these cutting edge approaches to mosquito control,” said Taylor.
Drones would release sterilized male mosquitoes to help control the mosquito population in areas where the virus is being spread. It’s a move meant to move communities from heavy insecticide use to remove the infected population.
“You can’t take the truck into every nook and cranny of the community,” said Taylor.
Another winning idea opted for mosquitoes infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia that blocks the spread of the virus. One plan had the community taking part and helping raise them – another proposed releasing them in masses.
“They’re basically rearing these mosquito larvea that already carry this natural occurring bacteria called Wolbachia…its not harmful at all but they figured out that when mosquitoes carry this bacteria, it can’t spread the disease,” said Taylor. “You can essentially inoculate a community by keeping the mosquitoes from spreading the disease.”
Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes have been proven to work long-term but now that the idea has USAID funding, they will test it on much larger populations in several Latin American communities. It’s something that the community does not have to change their habits or watch out for.
“You then no longer have to go in and spray over and over and over again,” said Taylor. “You can get something that establishes in the population over time. It can completely change the mosquito population as a whole.”
Human-scented mosquito traps is also another idea being researched and funded by USAID. Another option – low-cost treated sandals, an app that helps you detect a mosquito species through their flapping wing beats, among others.
While funding is already going towards this research and testing, they are not quick fixes to the continuously spreading virus. Even in South Florida – ground zero to the spread of the virus in the U.S. – we will have to wait a bit for these ideas to be developed, tested and approved.
Taylor said while things like sterile and genetically modified mosquitoes are already out on the market – other ideas will potentially be available in the next year or two.