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Brazil to begin Sterilizing Mosquitoes with Gamma Rays to combat Zika

Update Date: Feb 23, 2016 11:28 AM EST

Brazil will be combating Zika by sterilizing the mosquitoes that transmit the virus with gamma rays.

Officials will be using a device called a cobalt-60 irradiator, which will be shipped to Juazeiro once the government approves an import permit. The International Atomic Energy Agency has agreed to pay for the shipping costs. This type of device, which is manufactured by Canada's MDS Nordion, has been used previously to control the population of fruit flies on Madeira, an island in Portugal.

"It's a birth control method, the equivalent of family planning for humans," explained Kostas Bourtzis, a molecular biologist with the IAEA's insect pest control laboratory, according to Reuters.

The plan is to breed up to 12 million male mosquitoes in order to sterilize them with the irradiator. The sterile mosquitoes will then be released in regions with a high wild Aedes aegypti mosquito population. The idea is that the sterile male mosquitoes will mate with the wild female mosquitoes resulting in eggs that will never grow into mosquitoes. Officials will be monitoring how this program works in Juazeiro before deciding if a larger scale sterilization program is needed.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito can also transmit dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fevers.

Brazilian authorities have been working hard to reduce the mosquito population ahead of the Rio Olympics, which begins on August 5. Since the Zika virus has been linked to possibly causing microcephaly, a birth defect that occurs when an infant is born with a small head and an underdeveloped brain, everyone that is at-risk, such as athletes and visitors traveling from all around the world, have been worried.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has already announced that they will be hiring two specialists, who will be advising the athletes at the Games.

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