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Photograph: Photo by Day Donaldson, used under CC BY

Genetically modified mosquitos should be used to control the Zika virus in closely monitored pilot programmes, leading scientists advising the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.

The WHO, which has declared the Zika outbreak in Latin America a global health emergency, has been focusing on mosquito control because the insects are the main transmitters of the virus.

It is highly likely the virus has been causing rising numbers of birth defects in babies as well as cases of Guillain-Barré muscle weakness in adults.

The WHO's group of advisors recommended the pilot deployment of a strain of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered to produce offspring that die before reaching adulthood.

The OX513A strain was developed by the British firm Oxitec, which is already conducting field trials in Brazil and Panama, according to its website.

The expert advisors noted that small field trials showed a decrease in mosquito populations. However, they also pointed out that there was no proof yet that this method will curb the spread of the actual disease.

In addition to genetic engineering, the advisors also recommended pilot projects involving mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia bacteria, which reduces their ability to transmit several viruses including Zika.

The advisory group, whose recommendations the WHO usually heeds, said further research was needed on several other novel mosquito-reduction techniques that involve sterilizing them with radiation, trapping them, or baiting them with insecticide.

In addition, they promoted traditional methods of insecticide spraying, removing wet breeding grounds for insects and personal protection with light-coloured clothing.

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