Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazilian media are buzzing like flies about a virus called Zika, which, like its cousin dengue, is easier to pronounce than Chikungunya. As a result of this buzz, everybody “knows” that an outbreak of the Zika virus has caused thousands of cases of microcephalous births, principally in Brazil’s Northeast. And everybody “knows” that babies born with smaller crania are inevitably doomed to a sub-standard life.
Except that what everybody “knows” simply isn’t true.
There is no scientific evidence that links the Zika virus to microcephalous births. Of the thousands of cases now being reported as microcephaly, there are exactly two (2) cases where traces of the virus have been found in the amniotic fluid. As an official US Government report has stated: “There is no indication that any pregnant woman needs to leave an area that has Zika infections at this time.”
There is also no generally accepted scientific definition of how much smaller than “normal” a cranium must be to be called“microcephalic”. The reported numbers of microcephalic births are hundreds of times greater than ever in the past, which may mean that doctors, when in doubt, follow their herd instincts and say it’s microcephaly.
The good news is that there is scientific evidence showing that microcephaly can be treated and children grow up normally. Good news, of course, doesn’t make good headlines, so the media don’t report it.
The fact is that no one in Brazil knows much at all about Chikungunya or dengue or Zika, which is semi-officially called “dengue light”. That fact doesn’t keep the media from interviewing people who claim to know something scary.
The flavor-of-the-week virus is “Oropouche”. A couple of researchers seeking their 15 minutes of fame have claimed that at least half the “dengue” cases reported in Brazil are really Oropouche. No matter that Oropouche is transmitted by a fly and not by the mosquito that allegedly transmits dengue. The important thing is to be the first to announce a new health hazard.
The Curmudgeon, who has consulted public health officers before writing this, believes that the Zika “epidemic” will end when the media have more juicy political news to feed their readers.