Originally appeared in USA Today
MIAMI — Soon after the USA's top disease prevention official said the Zika virus could not be contained using "existing technologies," the Internet disagreed.
Some people argued the technology did exist, but the feds – stuck in the Middle Ages – failed to grasp it. Others suggested the government unleash genetically-modified mosquitoes to wipe out the Zika-transmitting mosquitoes. Still more contended the U.S. was ignoring groundbreaking vaccines and mosquito sprays used with success in other mosquito-infested countries. Even a veterinarian weighed in, saying a good shot of Vitamin C would do the trick.
The surge of suggestions came after
While armchair critics had some pretty wacky ideas, infectious disease experts say Frieden was, unfortunately, right.
"What he's talking about is the fact that Aedes aegypti have been a plague on the human race for centuries," Amesh Adalja of the
Infectious disease experts also agreed that they all get a constant stream of unsolicited, and usually unproven, advice.
"All the time," said Daniel Olson, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the
Despite the depressing conclusion of Frieden and others, infectious disease experts say some of the proposed solutions could develop into realistic answers down the road.
Vitamin C may not cure Zika. As Olson explained: "There's not a lot of evidence behind a lot of these claims."
But Adalja points to genetically-modified mosquitoes as one mosquito-control technique that has been widely tested and could be ready for deployment in the U.S.
Oxitec, a British company, has tested a procedure to alter the genetic code of male mosquitoes. When those modified mosquitoes mate with females, the offspring die before reaching adulthood, reducing the number of mosquitoes in the area.
Oxitec has tested such mosquitoes in Brazil, Panama and the
Adalja said people need to accept that kind of technology, which he said has been carried out "elegantly" and could become a common mosquito eradication technique in the very near future.
"Absolutely, that should be pursued," said Adalja, a senior associate at the Center for Health Security at the
Olson said the U.S. also needs to invest more in improving surveillance technology so that local medical officials can better track where Zika, and future mosquito-borne viruses, spread. He said the initial response to Zika from public health officials was slow because they rely mostly on doctors and hospitals to report patients they see, a process that is voluntary and does not include penalties for failing to participate.
"If you can't see it, you can't study it," he said.
Allowing citizens to self-report their symptoms - known as "participatory syndromic surveillance" in the scientific world - helped Olson and a team of researchers closely track the spread of dengue in
The infectious disease experts said there are other technologies in development that could help, from vaccines that can be produced more quickly, to mosquito sprays that can help eradicate the virus-carrying mosquitoes.
Hagai Levine, a communicable disease expert at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center School of Public Health in Jerusalem, said the U.S. has simply lacked the will to pursue those possible solutions.
Levine said the proliferation of mosquito-borne diseases in recent decades is obvious to anybody paying attention. But since those viruses did not tear through developed nations, Levine said those governments didn't spend much time finding solutions. Zika, for example, first appeared in Brazil in 2015, several months before it surfaced in
"Then we wake up," he said. "Any country focuses on issues that are relevant to its own population. But we live today in a world of global health."
That requires collaboration among scientists in countries around the world, he said.
"Once we put our effort to such problems, I'm sure we will come up with more solutions," he said.