By JONES H MUNANG’ANDU -
THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the Zika virus a global health emergency as from February 1, 2016, noting that the “main worry” is the virus’ potential link to microcephaly and subsequent brain damage.
According to WHO, the Zika virus may have infected as many as four million people in the Americas, and public health officials in Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador are reportedly researching the effects of Zika infection in pregnant women.
The virus was first isolated in 1947 from a monkey in the Zika forest, Uganda, then in mosquitoes (Aedes africanus) in the same forest in 1948.
The first human case was in Nigeria in 1952. There are two ZIKV lineages: the African lineage and the Asian lineage which has recently emerged in the Pacific and the Americas.
However, in this discussion, we elaborate the ‘shrunken heads’ in the boondocks as an indicator for Zika awareness but not the circumstantial evidence for viral prevalence.
To start with, Zika virus disease is a mosquito-borne disease caused by Zika virus (ZIKV) which causes, in general, a mild febrile illness with maculo-papular rash.
Aedes mosquitoes are considered as main vectors.
Before 2007, viral circulation and a few outbreaks were documented in tropical Africa and in some areas in Southeast Asia.
Since 2007, several islands of the Pacific region have experienced outbreaks.
In 2015, ZIKV disease outbreaks were reported in South America for the first time. ZIKV disease is now considered as an emerging infectious disease.
A significant increase of patients with Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) was reported during the 2014 outbreak in French Polynesia.
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. When Zika affected some areas in Brazil, a rise in microcephaly was seen and the Brazilian government asked health officials to report any case in which a child was born with a head circumference smaller than 33 centimetres.
False positives were expected, and when they realised that most of these babies were in fact healthy and normal, the threshold was lowered to 32 centimeters in December.
The limit was further lowered to 31.9 centimeters for boys and 31.5 centimeters for girls.
As reported by the New York Times, “Of the cases examined so far, 404 have been confirmed as having microcephaly and only 17 of them tested positive for the Zika virus… Another 709 babies have been ruled out as having microcephaly underscoring the risks of false positives making the epidemic appear larger than it actually is. The remaining 3,670 cases are still being investigated.
Hence, there’s actually very little scientific evidence tying the Zika virus to this particular condition.
If we are to take the US as our example, approximately 25,000 infants are diagnosed with microcephaly each year.
Brazil has about 70 per cent of the population.
The US has, and now reports, just over 400 cases, 17 of which tested positive for the Zika virus.
Colombia reports that 3,177 pregnant women have tested positive for Zika virus, yet no cases of microcephaly have occurred.
According to ATCC, a “global biological material resource organisation whose mission focuses on the acquisition, authentication, production, preservation, development, and distribution of standard reference micro organisms,” the Zika virus7 — which they sell for about US$500 — causes paralysis and death.
In humans, Zika infection typically causes only mild flu-like symptoms, if any, and there does not appear to be any prior evidence suggesting it might cause birth defects.
That certainly doesn’t exclude the possibility, of course, but there are many other factors and co-factors that offer a far more likely and rational explanation for the rise in microcephaly in this area of Brazil, besides Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
For starters, the “outbreak” is occurring in a largely poverty-stricken agricultural areas 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 already have the basic framework for an increase in poor health outcomes among newborn infants in that area.
Environmental pollution and toxic pesticide exposure have been positively linked to a wide array of adverse health effects, including birth defects.
When you add all these co-factors together, an increase in microcephaly doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched outcome.
Vitamin A and zinc deficiency is considered endemic in Brazil, and both of these nutritional deficiencies are known to depress immune function.
More importantly, vitamin A deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of microcephaly specifically, and zinc is known to play an important role in the structure and function of the brain.
Even the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list malnutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals as two of the three known risk factors.
The third is certain infections during pregnancy, including rubella, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, and others.
Researchers have also noted that microcephaly follows “an apparent autosomal recessive pattern,” and may be the result of a recessed gene.
The pesticide Atrazine also appears to be a viable culprit.
According to research published in 2011, small head circumference was listed as a side effect of prenatal Atrazine exposure.
Atrazine is used to prevent pre and post emergence weeds and is the second most commonly used herbicide after roundup.
As noted by Sott.net: “The most obvious cause of birth defects in this area is direct contact and absorption of pesticides. A study of pesticide use on tomatoes in the Northern State of Pernambuco, Brazil, indicates high exposure to pesticide workers and poor application methods which threaten the ecology of the area.
“Women washed the pesticide application equipment, generally in the work environment, without protective clothing or without observing the recommended three-fold washing process … of the women workers, 32 per cent reported being pregnant more than five times … almost three-quarters of the women (71 per cent) reported miscarriages, and 11 per cent reported having mentally and/or physically impaired offspring.”
A report by an Argentine physician’s organisation called “Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns” also challenges the theory that Zika virus is responsible for the microcephaly cases in Brazil.
They note that for the past 18 months, a chemical larvicide that causes malformations in mosquitoes (pyroproxyfen) has been applied to the drinking water in the affected area of Brazil.
Pyroproxyfen is manufactured by Sumitomo Chemical, long-term strategic partners of Monsanto, and has been used in a state-controlled programme to eradicate mosquitoes.
This chemical inhibits growth in mosquito larvae, thereby producing malformations that disable or kill the mosquitoes.
According to “Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns,” it’s also an endocrine disruptor and teratogenic, meaning it causes birth defects.
The organisation also points out that Zika virus has never been associated with birth defects previously, even in areas where 75 per cent of the population has been infected.
According to the report: “malformations detected in thousands of children from pregnant women living in areas where the Brazilian state added Pyroproxyfen to drinking water are not a coincidence even though the Ministry of Health places a direct blame on the Zika virus for this damage.”
The list of pesticides that have the potential to disrupt fetal development is long.
Yet another suspect is Imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid.
In October 2012 — around the same time that these women would have been getting pregnant – Brazil lifted its ban on aerial spraying of neonicotinoids.
In 2001, it was reported that Imidacloprid fed to pregnant rats and rabbits in “maternally toxic” doses caused skeletal malformation in a small percentage of fetuses.
In December 2013, the United Kingdom (UK) based Daily Mail also reported that neonicotinoids were suspected of causing developmental problems in babies and children. Another 2013 study showed adverse
events with embryo development and neonicotinoids. Perhaps it’s not any single one of these pesticides that is to blame.
Perhaps the rise in microcephaly cases is the result of exposure to a terrible mixture of toxic pesticides before or during pregnancy.
Also, in October 2014, the Brazilian government mandated that all pregnant women must receive the pertussis-containing Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine, effective as of 2015.
The fact that birth defects began rising toward the end of 2015 seems more suspicious in light of this mandate than the possibility that Zika infection is solely responsible — especially when you consider that pertussis vaccine has previously been linked to brain inflammation and brain damage in infants, and the safety of administering Tdap to pregnant women has never been proven.
In the summer of 2015, Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Programme Director Dr Kathryn Edwards received a US$307,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study the immune responses of pregnant women receiving Tdap, the vaccine in question. Her conclusions remain to be seen.
But a number of previous studies have demonstrated that stimulating the immune system of a pregnant woman is a very bad idea.
So why mandate Tdap vaccine but not vitamin A and zinc supplementation for pregnant women?
Studies showing adverse health effects from maternal immune activation include but are not limited to the following samples: interestingly enough, the Gates Foundation has also financed the development of genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes, designed by a biotech company called Oxitec to combat dengue fever and Zika — a project some suspect may have somehow backfired, resulting in a Zika outbreak instead.
Considering the fact that the transgenic mosquitoes are designed to kill the offspring before they reach breeding maturity — they’re carrying a “suicide” or “self-destruct gene” if you will — you may wonder how such mosquitoes could possibly promote the spread of Zika.
Well, they can’t. Not intentionally, anyway, which is what some people have suggested.
There are some potential problems though.
This genetic “kill switch” starts to fail in the presence of the antibiotic tetracycline.
Brazil is the third largest consumer of antibiotics for food and animal production and according to a 2009 analysis, an estimated 75 per cent of the tetracyclines administered to farm animals end up being excreted in waste.
The use of manure and sewage sludge as fertilisers is a major route of spread of antibiotics in the environment.
(Little is known about the environmental impact of tetracycline, but Brazilian researchers have found alarming situations where the presence of these drugs in drinking water has resulted in bacterial resistance.)
According to Oxitec documents, in the presence of tetracyclines the survival rate of the GE mosquitoes’ offspring may be as high as 15 per cent.
However, aside from not decimating the mosquito population as efficiently as intended, there’s really no evidence to suggest that these GE mosquitoes are somehow intentional carriers of the Zika virus.
That said, while the GE mosquitoes are supposed to be all male, which don’t bite, if females either happen to slip through the process, or for some reason survive, there may be a risk that they could transfer their modified DNA to the host.
What the ramifications of this might be is unclear.
It’s astounding though how short-sighted many are, but that’s what happens when you incite panic — people don’t stop to think.
In this case, recommendations to use toxic foggers and sprays is bound to do far more harm than good, if for no other reason than the fact that they are ineffective against Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito in question.
These tiny black and white striped mosquitoes do not fly far — their range being a mere 300 to 600 feet.
Since it’s so difficult to catch them airborne, insecticidal sprays and foggers are mostly useless for controlling them.
Also, they feed during the daytime, not at night, which is typically when the fog-trucks will roll through the neighbourhood.
As noted by Medicinenet.com: “To feed, they have to stick close to their intended targets, aka us. They live under decks, patio furniture, and in homes that don’t have cool air — they don’t much like air conditioning. They especially love the drip trays that collect extra water under potted plants.
“They can breed in incredibly small amounts of water,” says Joe Conlon, spokesman for the American Mosquito Control Association.
“When I was in Suriname, South America, several years ago, I saw them breeding very happily in discarded soda bottle caps,” he says.
In New Jersey, researchers at Rutgers University found them breeding in water that had pooled in discarded snack-size potato chip bags.
“These mosquitoes are in people’s backyards,” says Dina Fonseca, Ph.D, an entomologist and associate professor at Rutgers.
They live in containers, she says, and are “urban, domestic mosquitoes.”
In summary, ‘shrunken head syndrome’ or microcephaly is rare, and it has many other causes, including infection of the fetus with rubella (German measles), cytomegalovirus or toxoplasmosis; poisoning of the fetus by alcohol, mercury or radiation; or severe maternal malnutrition and diabetes.
It is also caused by several gene mutations, including Down Syndrome. There is no vaccine or prophylaxis against the Zika virus.
Efforts to make a vaccine have just begun, and creating and testing a vaccine normally takes years and costs hundreds of millions of dollars.
It is our sincere hope that this disease will be soon contained to avoid unnecessary health and economical burden of its prognosis.
Numerous vaccines on our list of prevention is also not healthy as vaccines are also a culprit to other health problems.
(The author is a motivational speaker and health practitioner)