Local governments in South America are investigating ways to solve the recent outbreak of Zika virus. As of February 2016, 20 countries have identified locally-acquired cases of Zika and Brazil alone reported nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly.
The Zika virus is known to be spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito species, a known vector of several diseases including the dengue virus, yellow fever virus, chikungunya virus. This mosquito primarily feeds on humans and is typically found in densely populated urban areas.
The use of bacteria such as Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) or Walchabia that stops the virus from replicating inside the mosquitoes that transmit the disease is useful but insufficient.
The IAEA is assisting in exploring the potential of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). The technique has been successfully used to reduce the population of fruit flies, tse tse flies and other pests or sometimes even to eradicate them in various regions of the world. The technique, simply presented in an animated infographics produced by the Joint FAO- IAEA Division is
based on the release of radiation-sterilized males in selected areas. When these males mate with wild females, no offspring are produced, thus leading to a progressive reduction of the population when releases are repeated.
Overview of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). Source: AIEA
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is providing experts and has offered a self-shielded irradiator to Brazil to help fighting the Zika virus. With the support of local and international institutes and laboratories, the Government of Brazil is testing the technology and will expand it and scale it up to more cities if the results are positive.
Aedes aegypti mosquito (left side) and Aedes at an early stage of life (right side) irradiated at distinct irradiation doses.