Genetically modified mosquitoes have wide support in Florida

Most people in Florida — the first US state to experience local spread of the Zika virus — favor the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat spread of the virus, a new poll suggests.

In fact, use of this technique to try to halt Zika’s spread has more support in Florida than in other states, the poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found.

Earlier this month the Food and Drug Administration gave its blessing to proposed field trials of GM mosquitoes in Florida. But final approval rests with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. It plans to hold a nonbinding referendum of residents in November to help it decide whether to proceed with the field trial.

The latest data, released Friday, suggests 60 percent of Floridians support the use of specially adapted male mosquitoes, which sire offspring that die young, to fight Zika — 40 percent “strongly” favoring it and another 20 percent “somewhat” favoring it. Only 19 percent strongly oppose the idea.

Elsewhere in the US, about half of people support this approach.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center, part of the University of Pennsylvania, conducts a weekly poll — the Annenberg Science Knowledge survey — to gauge public knowledge on a range of issues. Since it began in February, the survey has tracked public understanding of the Zika virus outbreak.

Florida has reported 42 cases of Zika infection among people who were infected in the state; at least two people from out of state have been infected there as well. Two areas — the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami and a section of Miami Beach — have been determined to have ongoing transmission of Zika.

The poll also found Floridians and people in other parts of the US generally approve of “special spraying from the air” to eliminate mosquitoes that carry Zika — even though mosquito experts have suggested this approach won’t work for Aedes aegypti, the mosquitoes that spread the virus.

Aedes aegypti often live inside homes, putting them out of reach of chemicals released in aerial spraying.

The poll found Floridians were twice as likely than people elsewhere to have taken steps recently to protect themselves from contracting Zika. Still, only 40 percent of people from Florida reported taking steps like removing standing water from outside their homes, wearing long-sleeved clothing, or using insect repellant.

The phone survey was conducted between Aug. 18 and Aug. 22. A total of 1,472 adults were surveyed, with an over-sampling of 509 respondents from Florida.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points for the responses from Floridians, and plus or minus 3.7 percentage points for non-Florida respondents.

This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Aug. 26, 2016. Find the original story here.