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The War Against Zika: Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Thousands of male mosquitoes were released in South Miami's Brewer Park Thursday.

They have been rendered sterile in a Kentucky lab by a company called MosquitoMate.

The mosquitoes were left incapable of impregnating females, after being infused with a Wolbachia bacteria.

The plan is over six months to release six million of the bugs that don't bite, but have a healthy sex drive, and will mate with females whose eggs won't hatch.

"We would expect to see the mosquito population decline," said Dr. William Petrie, Miami's director of mosquito control.  "If it works really successfully, the population will crash."

The sterile mosquito release is aimed at preventing another Zika virus epidemic like one that two summers ago saw the air filled with planes spraying potentially toxic pesticide over wide areas.  MosquitoMate, that developed the sterile mosquitoes, says previous trials have seen big results in knocking out those that carry Zika.

"Last year in the Florida Keys, we saw an 80 percent reduction in the female, adult aedes aegypti population," said MosquitoMate's Dr. Patrick Kelly.

In the limited Keys trial, the mosquitoes made sterile with bacteria were used after protests blocked the release of mosquitoes that had been genetically modified to be sterile.

The bacteria in the mosquitoes being released now can't be spread to humans or other animals.

South Miami's mayor, Phillip Stoddard, a biologist and zealous environmentalist, says the mosquitoes, that will be released in batches of 20,000 at a time through July 31st, pose no danger.

"This is the only technology that has zero downside to it," Stoddard said.

Zika can cause microcephaly - abnormally small heads and brain damage - in children whose mothers have or have had the virus.

Carlyle Concern held her three-month-old newborn as she watched the anti-Zika mosquitoes taking to the air Thursday, and said the program is a welcomed development.

She was pregnant with her eldest child during the height of the previous Zika epidemic.

"I had to stay mostly indoors and be covered, so it wasn't really an enjoyable pregnancy," Concern said.

If test runs in Miami-Dade and other cities produce good results, the release of sterile mosquitos on a broad scale could get government approval next year, according to MosquitoMate.

More positive buzz for the anti-Zika trial is that it's not costing Miami-Dade County anything.

The $4.1 million program is being funded by the Florida Department of Health with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control.

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