Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — The Curmudgeon wrote a couple weeks ago that “Brazilian media are buzzing like flies about a virus called Zika ….” This week, media from all over the world are abuzz, because … well, because CDC, an official U.S. government agency, did a 180 degree turn and advised pregnant women not to travel to countries affected by Zika.
The bulk of mainstream media seem to believe that the Zika virus has caused thousands of cases of microcephalous births.
BUT (we repeat): There is no scientific “proof” that the Zika virus causes microcephaly in newborns. There is evidence of the presence of the virus in placentas and amniotic fluid, but there is no confirmed proof that the virus has caused any of the thousands of cases now being reported as microcephaly.
The official warnings are that it may yet be proven that Zika is a common cause of microcephaly. There are other suspected causes which cannot be ruled out. For instance, there are indications that Zika may be sexually transmitted — meaning sex between human beings. If true, that’s scary, because while there is a repellent that will work against mosquitos, nobody (save possibly the Roman Catholic Church) has yet attempted to invent a repellent to sex between consenting persons.
Research is the answer and research will continue.
The fact remains that, today, as The Curmudgeon faces his deadline, no one [and I mean absolutely no one] in Brazil or in the U.S. or in Chikungunya knows much of anything about Zika. Researchers on a roll hope to find something, but the most they can do is blame Aedes Aegypti, the Egyptian mosquito engendered a few thousand centuries before the Arab Spring.
In the meantime, don’t panic. Zika is still “dengue light”. It’s never caused any deaths, it’s never caused any serious after-effects in adults, it’s never been seen as much of a threat to anyone — it’s just been one of those annoyingly (if charmingly) named viruses that pop up from time to time and then go viral.
On the other hand, Zika virus may (once again, just “may”) have been the cause of babies being born with underdeveloped brains, and that is serious. There are a few countries (five at last count) that have told women: “Do Not Get Pregnant!” That sounds like rational advice, but as we have all known since we were teenagers decades (years, months, days) ago, hormones rage and rule.
The 2016 Olympics are coming in August, meaning thousands of female athletes, almost all of an age to bear children, will be in Rio. August is typically a dry month, and the authorities are now gearing up for an anti-Aedes Aegypti campaign throughout Brazil — house to house searches for uncovered clean stagnant water.
And, if we’re lucky, by August scientists and researchers will have learned much more about Zika and microcephaly.
POSTSCRIPT. The Curmudgeon retracts, and apologizes for, his inaccurate statement that, in all cases, microcephaly can be treated and children grow up normally. In some cases that is true. In other cases, sadly, it is not.
The Curmudgeon still believes that the media will push Zika to the back pages when they have more juicy political news to feed the public. He’s not sure that’s a good thing.