Amidst growing fear-based propaganda warning of the threat of Zika virus comes a quiet admission from health officials in Brazil: Zika alone may not be responsible for the rise in birth defects that plagued parts of the country.
While there is some evidence suggesting Zika virus may be linked to the birth defect microcephaly, and the virus has been spreading throughout Brazil, rates of the condition have only risen to very high rates in the northeast section of Brazil. Since the virus has spread throughout Brazil, but extremely high rates of microcephaly have not, officials are now being forced to admit that something else is likely at play.
Dr. Fatima Marinho, director of information and health analysis at Brazil’s ministry of health, told the journal Nature, “We suspect that something more than Zika virus is causing the high intensity and severity of cases.”
Nearly 90 Percent of Brazil’s Microcephaly Cases Occurred in the Northeast
Since last November, more than 1,700 confirmed cases of congenital microcephaly or other birth defects of the central nervous system have been reported in Brazil.
When the cases first began and were reportedly linked to Zika virus, health officials believed they’d see “an explosion of birth defects” across Brazil, according to Marinho. But that hasn’t happened.
Data compiled by Marinho and colleagues, which has been submitted for publication, suggest socio-economic factors may be involved. Most of the women who gave birth to babies with microcephaly were poor and lived in small cities or on the outskirts of big cities.
In addition, the outbreak occurred in a largely poverty-stricken agricultural area of Brazil that uses large amounts of banned pesticides.
Between these factors and the lack of sanitation and widespread vitamin A and zinc deficiency, you have the basic framework for an increase in poor health outcomes among newborn infants in that area.
- Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of microcephaly
- The CDC lists malnutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals as known risk factors
- The CDC also notes certain infections during pregnancy, including rubella, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis and others, are risk factors
Data is Lacking to Confirm Zika-Microcephaly Link
It’s also been suggested that microcephaly may be the result of Zika virus occurring alongside other infections, such as dengue and chikungunya.
The Brazilian doctor who first reportedly established the link between Zika virus and microcephaly is even considering whether another disease, Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), may be involved, as BVDV proteins were also detected in the brains of three fetuses with microcephaly.
BVDV causes birth defects in cattle but is not known to infect people. Researchers suggested that infection with Zika virus may make it easier for BVDV to infect humans.
Adding to the complexities, much of the microcephaly data from Brazil comes from incomplete hospital reports. In most cases, tests to confirm Zika infection were not carried out.
In June 2016, the Zika in Infants and Pregnancy Study was launched in Puerto Rico. It aims to monitor up to 10,000 pregnant women to examine Zika virus along with nutritional, socio-economic and environmental factors and their potential link to birth defects. However, the results of a similar study have only raised further doubts.
12,000 Zika Cases Confirmed in Pregnant Colombian Women — Zero Microcephaly Cases
According to a report by the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), there are serious questions about whether Zika virus is the cause of microcephaly. They cite the preliminary results of a New England Journal of Medicine study, which followed nearly 12,000 pregnant Colombian women infected with Zika virus.
No cases of microcephaly were reported in their babies as of May 2016, yet four cases of microcephaly were reported among women who had Zika infection with no symptoms and were therefore not included in the study.
The researchers then speculated that this means there could be four times as many cases of Zika infection that are unreported, for a total of at least 60,000 Zika-infected pregnancies in Colombia.
Using this data, an analysis revealed the rate of microcephaly to be what would be expected in any area, whether Zika is in the picture or not, which is 2 cases in 10,000 births. According to NECSI:
“This gives a consistent interpretation that there is no direct link between Zika and microcephaly except for random co-occurrence.
We note that the base rate of microcephaly in the absence of Zika is 140 per year in Colombia, which is consistent with the approximately 50 microcephaly cases in the first [four] months of 2016, only [four] of which have been connected to Zika. When interpreting Zika as the cause, background cases must be subtracted.”
By June 2016, 11 total microcephaly cases had been reported in women with Zika infections in Colombia. If Zika and microcephaly are linked, NECSI pointed out that the total number of microcephaly cases should rise dramatically in the next few months, reaching more than 10 microcephaly-Zika births each week.
NECSI also suggested, “An alternative cause of microcephaly in Brazil could be the pesticide pyriproxyfen, which is cross-reactive with retinoic acid, which causes microcephaly, and is being used in drinking water.”
WHO Expert: Zika Response ‘Completely Hysterical’
Florence Fouque, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert on animals that carry viruses, called the public response to the Zika virus “completely hysterical.” She blamed the hysteria on the findings that the virus affects pregnant women and can be sexually transmitted.
“It’s like AIDS,” she told PRI. “People make this link and that’s why they are really afraid.” At one restaurant in downtown Miami, Florida, where a handful of Zika cases were detected in August 2016, insect repellent was placed on all the tables.
Even Oliver Brady, an epidemiologist with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was asked by Brazilian officials to assess the Zika-microcephaly situation, said there’s no conclusive evidence that Zika causes birth defects in humans.
He told PRI that while animal studies have shown the virus attacks brain cells, this isn’t “final proof:”
“You see that with a lot of arboviruses [viruses spread by mosquitoes and other insects] … They have pathogenic qualities and if you put them in the right tissue then they will cause some sort of damage. And they tend to be quite transmissible across a variety of barriers anyway.
So it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the mechanism that’s happening out there in the field, even if it does work in the lab.”
National Institutes of Health Launches Trial for Experimental Zika Vaccine
The U.S. is among those ignoring data and rushing to launch a vaccine against Zika virus before it’s even known whether it’s causing birth defects. What is known, however, is that experimental vaccines have real risks, which are often downplayed in the wake of perceived global “emergencies” such as Zika.
In August 2016, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it launched a clinical trial of an experimental Zika vaccine — again, before there is conclusive proof that Zika causes microcephaly.
Eighty healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35 will be vaccinated with varying doses of the experimental vaccine. No placebos will be given. The vaccine is said to be similar to a West Nile Virus vaccine that was previously developed by the NIH, but has not yet been approved. This alone should be a red flag, as should the disastrous outcome of the CYD-TDV vaccine, the first dengue vaccine approved by WHO in April 2016.
Dengue Vaccine Hints at Potential Problems With Zika Vaccines
Dr. Scott B. Halstead, former senior adviser of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative and the founder of Children’s Vaccine Initiative, told the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:
“It’s happened. We have a vaccine that enhances dengue … It’s clear as the nose on my face: Vaccine recipients less than 5 years old had five to seven times more rates of hospitalizations for severe dengue virus than placebo controls.”
He’s referring to the results of a three-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which suggest the vaccine causes antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). Halstead explained:“Over time, you make and keep protective levels of antibody from the initial infection, but you lose the cross-reactive antibodies … That allows a second dengue infection to cause severe illness … “
At this point, it’s unknown how this relates to Zika virus, but it’s possible that pre-existing immunity to dengue may lead to more severe infection with Zika virus. The University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy quoted concerns voiced by Dr. Philip K. Russell, the former director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, as well as founding president and chairman of the Sabin Vaccine Institute:
“Russell said that the fact that Zika is occurring in areas where dengue has been endemic hints at a serious potential problem with ADE and Zika vaccine development. ‘The current epidemic of Zika, which is usually mild disease, is made a lot worse in these populations,’ Russell said. ‘I think there’s a major effect, but the studies haven’t been done yet to sort that out.’
More Toxic Exposures Are Not the Answer
Many areas are ramping up pesticide spraying to combat Zika virus. A Clean Water Act permit is generally required to spray pesticides in areas where they might end up in water. The permit is intended to keep thetoxic chemicals from contaminating water, but now the Zika virus has been used as an excuse to do away with this common-sense precaution.
The language was inserted into the Zika Vector Control Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives. It would exempt pesticide applicators from needing a Clean Water Act permit, even when spraying near water. Critics argued the bill would do little to help fight Zika virus, since mosquito-control agencies already have authority to apply pesticides in emergency situations to prevent the spread of infectious disease without applying for permits.
Opponents say the bill has nothing to do with combating Zika and, instead, has been on the table for years, with the majority pushing for its passage “under whatever name” was convenient at the time. A White House spokesman also said it hasn’t ruled out relaxing restrictions on some pesticides to fight Zika.
By removing requirements for permits when spraying pesticides near water, it’s likely the use of these chemicals will skyrocket, including via aerial spraying, which was recently started in Miami, Florida.
Aerial Mosquito Spraying May Increase Autism Risk
Unfortunately, many may suffer as a result. In research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting, aerial pesticide exposure was linked to an increased risk of developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder among children. The study compared children living in zip codes where aerial pesticide spraying was used each summer to combat mosquitoes that carry the eastern equine encephalitis virus with children living in non-aerial-spraying zip codes.
Children exposed to the aerial pesticide spraying were about 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism or have a documented developmental delay than those living in areas that used other methods of pesticide application (such as manual spreading of granules).
If authorities use the supposed threat of Zika to increase aerial spraying, it could increase children’s risk of brain disorders, which is the opposite of what anti-Zika campaigns are supposed to achieve.
Mosquito Experts Admit Zika Threat Risk ‘Near Zero’
Even mosquito experts are questioning the extent of emergency that actually exists. Chris Barker, Ph.D., a mosquito-borne virus researcher at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, told WebMD: “I think the risk for Zika actually setting up transmission cycles that become established in the continental U.S. is near zero.”
Barker expects Zika to go the way of other tropical diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as dengue fever and chikungunya, in the U.S. with small clusters of outbreaks in southern states and little activity elsewhere. You needn’t go dousing your backyard in chemicals in an attempt to stay safe from Zika virus (whose connection to birth defects is still being explored).
If, however, mosquitoes are bothersome for you, draining standing water, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tires, bird baths, children’s toys and so on, is important.
This is where mosquitoes breed, so if you eliminate standing water you’ll eliminate many mosquitoes. A simple house fan could also help keep mosquitoes at bay if you’re having a get-together in your backyard or, for a longer-term solution, try installing a bat house (bats are voracious consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes). Regularly consuming garlic may also help protect against mosquito bites, as may the following natural insect repellants:
- Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET.)
- Clear liquid vanilla extract mixed with olive oil.
- Wash with citronella soap, and then put some 100 percent pure citronella essential oil on your skin. Java Citronella is considered the highest quality citronella on the market.
- Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is 10 times more effective than DEET.)
Sources and references:
- Nature July 25, 2016
- PRI August 2, 2016
- Science Daily June 24, 2016
- USA Today August 3, 2016
- Reuters August 3, 2016
- BBC August 4, 2016
- Time April 30, 2016
- 1, 2, 5 Nature July 25, 2016
- 3 Obstet Gynecol. 1959 Mar;13(3):299-301.
- 4 CDC, Facts About Microcephaly
- 6 New England Journal of Medicine May 19, 2016
- 7 Science Daily June 24, 2016
- 8, 10 New England Complex Systems Institute June 22, 2016
- 9 Science Daily June 28, 2016
- 11, 12, 14 PRI August 2, 2016
- 13 BBC August 4, 2016
- 15, 17 University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy July 28, 2016
- 16 N Engl J Med 2015; 373:1195-1206
- 18 Think Progress May 25, 2016
- 19 Reuters August 3, 2016
- 20 Science Daily April 30, 2016
- 21 WebMD May 26, 2016
- 22 J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jul 14;52(14):4395-400.
- 23 Science Daily August 28, 2001