Thursday, March 3, 2016

Zika Epidemic: Separating Hype from Fact

What is Zika?

It is a virus spread by Aedes mosquitoes - these are the ones that are active during the day. It usually causes no symptoms. In some cases, mild flu symptoms may be produced. But this is often cured with rest. All these are obviously no cause for concern. The reason why the world has taken note is because pregnant women affected by the Zika virus gave birth to babies with small heads. The WHO (World Health Organization) has declared it to be an international public health emergency. After it affected a million people in May 2015, the virus has spread to 24 nations in the Americas and Caribbean, and there is no known vaccine, cure or treatment.
These are the facts surrounding the epidemic.

Does the Zika virus cause microcephaly?

The evidence linking the virus to microcephaly or shrunken heads in newborn babies is at best circumstantial. In Brazil, the transmission of the virus picked up in 2014-15. Up until 2014, the four-year average for microcephaly was 163 cases a year. Brazilian health authorities have now recorded 3,530 cases of microcephaly between October 2015 and January 2016, and this figure includes 46 deaths. But for some reason, most of these have occurred in the northeastern part of the country, leading many to wonder if it is really the Zika virus that is the cause.
The Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns (PCST), a group of doctors, blame it on Pyriproxyfen, a larvicide that was added to Pernambuco’s drinking water supply by the Brazilian Ministry of Health way back in 2014. This was done to check the growth of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the region, after it was determined that these mosquitoes were carriers of the Zika virus. The chemical Pyriproxyfen is known to cause birth defects, and in this immediate instance, a commercial version of it, called SumiLarv, was used. Sumitomo Chemical, believed to be a Japanese subsidiary of Monsanto, produces SumiLarv.
Others are skeptical of this claim. Pyriproxyfen is used in 40 countries worldwide, including developed nations like France, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands. Recife is the epicenter of the outbreak, but Pyriproxyfen has not been added to the drinking water here. Pyriproxyfen does cause birth anomalies, but because of this, it is added carefully, and only in minutely small quantities, just enough to prevent Aedes aegypti larvae from becoming fully-grown adults. To be at risk from Pyriproxyfen, one would have to drink 1,000 liters of water treated with the chemical. Monsanto also has clarified on its association with Sumitomo – the Japanese company actually supplies it with technology, not the other way around. And this is restricted to herbicides. Monsanto does not own any stake in Sumitomo Chemical. The doctors' group PCST is also an Argentinian organization and not a Brazilian one.

Popular myths surrounding the Zika virus

The most widely circulated of them include how Zika is a killer, like the Ebola virus. The Zika virus is not fatal, and despite over a million being affected, no one has actually died. Those affected need not be hospitalized, and the mild flu-like symptoms pass off in a few days.