A few years ago, there were concerns about Dengue in Florida. This plight on humanity is carried by a small number of mosquitoes that have no ecological value of any kind, they are just disease carriers that have somehow survived evolution.
Pesticides obviously work, DDT has been killing the bugs that carry malaria for 70 years, but a more targeted approach is making sure they can't viably reproduce - a genetically modified mosquito does that quite well, but an activist mom, funded by environmentalists, whipped the public into frenzy. Science rationally showed that the arguments were hype, not science.
Now that mentality prevents a targeted solution to the Zika incursion as well. Residents would rather have children with birth defects than a mosquito that can't express a protein in humans or successfully reproduce, because to political science majors at environmental groups that's a Frankenbug.
Survey results in PLOS Currents Outbreaks suggest that people's attitudes toward this new mosquito control method may be tied to pre-existing beliefs about the science cure being worse than the nature disease. It's also no surprise that people who do not feel that they are at risk from mosquito-borne diseases or who don't believe that mosquitoes are a nuisance express greater discomfort with the idea of introducing male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which are bred to mate with wild females and produce offspring with a defective gene that kills them.
Though no local mosquito-borne cases of Zika virus have been reported in the United States - they are all sexual, which may be scarier - Aedes aegypti carry all three diseases, making this ecologically useless pest even more useless. In tests, the GM mosquito worked well in Brazil and Panama so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering a trial in Key Haven. The British company, Oxitec, has been trying for years to get approval for tests but activists promote fear and doubt about unanticipated consequences of introducing these lab-grown insects into the wild, whatever that means.
The survey was conducted in the second half of 2015, after locally transmitted dengue and chikungunya cases had been discovered in Florida, but before the Zika epidemic in South and Central America became big news. There is concern that Zika could spread north into the continental U.S. The band from southern Florida, including the Keys, to southern Texas, as well as Hawaii, are believed to be part of the region of the U.S. most at risk.
Would they feel different now? Probably not. Like Ebola, Zika could end up being more hype than reality, especially if transmission in the U.S. remains sexual (wear a condom.)
For the study, the researchers mailed a survey in July 2015 to all 456 households in the Key Haven community outside Key West; they received 89 responses. Residents were evenly split over whether they consider mosquitoes a nuisance, but two-thirds agreed there was a need to reduce the mosquito population. Women were more opposed to the genetically modified mosquitoes than men.
The most popular mosquito control method was draining standing water to reduce breeding, followed by treating standing water with larvicides designed to kill new mosquitoes before they hatch and spraying insecticides. The least popular was using genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the population.
Yes, DDT is now considered safer than biology - exactly the opposite of what anti-DDT activist Rachel Carson believed 50 years ago.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they either "oppose" or "strongly oppose" the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat the risk of disease. The most common objection was a concern over disturbing the local ecosystem by eliminating mosquitoes from the food chain. Respondents were also concerned that using genetically modified mosquitoes could lead to an increase in the use of other genetically modified products.
Since the survey was conducted before the extent of the Zika epidemic was widely known, respondents were only asked about their concerns about dengue and chikungunya (the area was hit by a dengue outbreak several years ago). Sixty-three percent said they were "a little worried" or "very worried" about becoming sick from one of those mosquito-borne illnesses, and most said they or someone they knew would contract one of the diseases.