Zika virus and pregnancy concerns have made news headlines for weeks. Doctors are inundated with calls and questions about the Zika virus, pregnancy, microcephaly, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and travel to warm climates. Zika is said to be sexually transmitted. Women are afraid to procreate and are advised to wait two years before attempting pregnancy. But is it really mosquitoes and the virus we should be afraid of? Or is there something else in the proverbial water?
Zika Virus Facts
The Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947. It is primarily transmitted to humans via the bite of the infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. The virus can also be transmitted by a pregnant woman to her fetus, through sexual contact, and through blood transfusions. Most people do not become sick. About 20% (or 1 in 5) experience a mild illness of fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis that lasts several days to a week. Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. There is currently no vaccine available.
Zika Virus and Pregnancy
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “there have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly among babies born to mothers infected with Zika virus during pregnancy. Currently, it is unclear what link if any Zika infection may have to microcephaly. International research organizations are investigating.” Also, there have been “reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in some countries where Zika transmission is occurring. Most people do recover from GBS, but some have permanent damage and, in rare cases, GBS leads to death. It is not known if Zika virus infection causes GBS, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working to answer this important question.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) states “Although not proven, researchers are studying a potential link between microcephaly cases and Zika virus infection.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) weighs in on the question regarding any association between Zika virus infection and congenital microcephaly: “Studies are under way to investigate the association of Zika virus infection and microcephaly, including the role of other contributory factors (e.g., prior or concurrent infection with other microorganisms, nutrition, and environment).”
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control addresses the Zika virus: “A significant increase of patients with Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) was reported during the 2014 outbreak in French Polynesia and the Americas since 2015. A similar increase along with an unusual increase of congenital microcephaly was observed in some regions in north eastern Brazil in 2015. Causal relationships are currently under investigation.”
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
There is an outbreak of the Zika virus in certain geographical areas. There is also a rise in the number of babies born with microcephaly to pregnant women infected with the virus and a rise in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome in these areas. Does this mean the Zika virus is the culprit? No. There is no basis in fact, no evidence-based medicine, no research to prove the hypothesis. Could it be the cause? Sure. But nobody knows.
Let’s say everybody in my family ate apples after dinner. We all fell ill that night. Obviously, the apples made us sick – it was the common denominator. You could postulate that and believe it to be true. But did the apples make us sick? Or was it salmonella left behind in the kitchen when somebody failed to clean up properly and transferred it to the apples. Were the apples washed? But wait…what about the water the apples were washed in?
What’s in the Water?
An Argentine organization called Physicians in the Crop Sprayed Towns issued a report questioning the theory that Zika virus is responsible for the increase in neurological problems (microcephaly, Guillain-Barré) in Brazil. The physicians make valid points and suggest chemicals added to the drinking water are responsible, not the Zika virus.
Mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus breed in water. The water is treated with chemicals to eliminate the mosquito population and therefore transmission of Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Pregnant women drink the water. Could the chemicals in the water be causing microcephaly and Guillian-Barré syndrome?
The report states previous Zika epidemics around the world did not cause defects in newborns, despite 75% of the population being infected. Also, in other countries such as Colombia there are no records of microcephaly; however, there are plenty of Zika cases.
“A dramatic increase of congenital malformations, especially microcephaly in newborns, was detected and quickly linked to the Zika virus by the Brazilian Ministry of Health. However, they fail to recognize that in the area where most sick persons live, a chemical larvicide (pyroproxyfen) was used to treat the drinking water of the affected population for the previous 18 months” the physicians group reported. The report goes on to link the chemical companies with policy makers, alluding to collusion.
Another organization, Abrasco (Brazilian doctors’ and public health researchers’ organization) issued a report (Google will translate) concurring with the Argentine physicians. Abrasco also names the same chemical as a likely cause of the microcephaly. It condemns the strategy of chemical control of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, which it says is contaminating the environment as well as people and is not decreasing the numbers of mosquitoes. Abrasco suggests that this strategy is in fact driven by the commercial interests of the chemical industry, which it says is deeply integrated into the Latin American ministries of health, as well as the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization.
Who Benefits From What?
The Zika scare has financial and political ramifications. Big money is involved all around. Research, vaccine development and sales, insect repellent, etc. – companies stand to make fortunes feeding on the perceived threat. Chemical companies making the larvicide to kill off the mosquito population and the companies contracted to distribute and implement the plans stand to benefit.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Is the Zika virus dangerous for pregnant women, or for women who plan to procreate in the near term? Who knows? But better be safe than sorry. Reconsider travel, protect against mosquito bites, don’t drink the water, and better yet, stay home. Condoms prevent sexual transmission of Zika and many other STDs (are we calling Zika an STD now?). Protect yourself, not just from Zika, but from all the other diseases mosquitoes carry.