A sexually transmitted case of the Zika Virus was confirmed Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, by the Oregon Health Authority. KGWNews reported that it is the first instance in the United States in which the Zika Virus was passed from a man who had traveled to a Zika-infected country onto a woman who had not traveled.
In fact, CNN reported that a sexually transmitted case of Zika Virus actually had emerged in 2008, when Dr. Brian Foy returned to Colorado after studying mosquitoes, became ill with the Zika Virus and gave it to his wife. He was confused by her sudden illness and lack of treatment available. As a microbiologist, he did the sensible thing, he froze samples of their blood, conducted a study, and submitted a report to the National Institute of Health that he had given his wife a mosquito-borne illness, the Zika Virus, through sex.
The findings were deemed inconclusive in 2011 because not enough people had gone through the same thing. Foy had re-submitted his Zika Virus report on Feb. 23, 2016, and it is currently undergoing evaluation. If it becomes published, with funding, perhaps more work can be done to combat the Zika Virus.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed this week that it was investigating 14 cases in which the Zika Virus appears to have been transmitted through sex, as opposed to the more common instance of the Zika Virus been transmitted through mosquitoes.
The mosquito-borne version of the Zika Virus striking Latin America has prompted the director of the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the outbreak to be “one of alarming proportions.” in January 2016. The breaking news that the virus can be passed along sexually lends an element of unease to the tragic implications of the Zika Virus.
While the symptoms of Zika Virus can be mild for grown men and women, the effect it has on newborn babies is severe. Newborns are being born with microcephaly, which is normally a rare birth defect. They have unusually small heads and underdeveloped brains. The Zika Virus is also suspected of causing Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is a rare disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack its nerves, usually resulting in temporary paralysis. However, there have been no conclusive reports on that claim yet.
In addition to the real concerns that Zika Virus inspires, there is no known cure or vaccine exists to counter the outbreak. People are eager to find some reason or cause for the generally unknown malady. As a result, Zika Virus conspiracy theories have been growing at an exponential rate, fanning fears that are often found circulating on Facebook posts, or the far corners of the internet. Fear can be blinding, but uncovering the truth with research and facts is essential to debunking unfounded Zika Virus conspiracy theories.
Theory: The Zika Virus is caused by Vaccines
Vaccines have been the source of numerous conspiracy theories, with websites devoted to the unfounded idea that vaccines are somehow the cause of Zika Virus. The Vaccination Information Network and Your News Wire both reported that Brazilians did not believe that the Zika Virus was caused by mosquitoes but by the Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis vaccine, or TDaP, which had been administered to pregnant Brazilian women in 2014. The vaccine given to pregnant women would especially ensure the protection of their newborns against TDaP.
There are exhaustive rumors and snippets of articles circulating online about TDaP which are considered to be a break in the “Zika Virus Scam” that several conspiracy theories seem to support. In order to debunk this claim, it is important to note that if the TDaP were the cause of microcephaly cases, they would have occurred everywhere women are being vaccinated with TDaP, including the United States.
A study released by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) included over 29,000 pregnant women in six states, and there was no instance of birth defect with the women who had been inoculated with TDaP. The CDC and the Top National Researcher of Vaccine Safety, both confirmed this. There was another study, with a narrower focus, of 26,000 women in California, that achieved the same conclusion. The United Kingdom had given the TDaP to 700,000 pregnant women in 2012 when they introduced a vaccination program to the public, and during a follow-up study of 20,000 of the same women, there was no reported increase in pregnancy risks.
Furthermore, it was noted that the vaccine is given in between the 27 and 36th week of pregnancy after the major organs and structural changes have taken place in the fetus. That rules out the idea of the vaccine causing congenital birth defects. Additionally, The New England Journal of Medicine reported finding the Zika Virus in the brain tissue of a fetus that had been aborted. The fetus had been afflicted with microcephaly, showing a direct link between the Zika Virus and the birth defect, microcephaly.
TDaP did not play a part in these findings. The Wall Street Journal reported that two Brazilian neuro pediatricians, Drs. van der Linden of Recife, Brazil( a mother and daughter team) had initially made the link between the Zika Virus and microcephaly. They had taken note of certain inconsistencies that kept cropping up for the suffering newborns.
There was an excess amount of skin covering the babies heads, other babies had patches of hardened skin across their skulls, their limbs were bent, and the hard patches were squeezing their brains. 70 percent of mothers had mentioned having an itchy rash during their pregnancy. There was also the fact that the doctors might see one microcephaly case every couple of months. In between August and October 2015, they had seen a strong influx of cases and were able to pinpoint the additional factor being the mosquito-borne virus that was sweeping the country, (now called Zika Virus).
The idea that the TDaP vaccine had anything to do with the Zika Virus does not jive with the evidence that has been reported. The fact that thousands of other women inoculated with the vaccine have not reported any pregnancy defects in the previous years thoroughly debunks the idea that the vaccine is the cause of microcephaly in newborns.
Theory: The Microcephaly cases are connected to Larvicide/Pesticides
With the help of an online article, this time, the public concern about pesticides and larvicides was rankled.
Fortune reported that an online article was released by Tech Time on Feb. 14, 2016, that directly stated that a larvicide was the cause of microcephaly in infants and had the credence of doctors to back it up. Tech Time stated that according to a group of Argentine doctors, the microcephaly cases were due to a toxic larvicide that had been dumped into the water supplies around Brazil. The larvicide in question is called Pyriproxyfen, and the group of doctors asserted that there is a clear indication that the numerous infants suffering from microcephaly can be found where the larvicide sites were, and the Zika Virus happened to coincide with the cases.
However, the group of doctors, who are from the University Network for Environment and Health, offered no actual evidence to back up these claims, they did not conduct any laboratory studies to show how the larvicide was causing microcephaly. There is an equally untested basis for the claims that all of the microcephaly cases were happening in correlation with the larvicide injection sites.
However, this did not stop the Brazilian southernmost state of Rio Grande Du Sol from suspending use of Pyriproxyfen in water meant for human consumption. CNN reported that Pyriproxyfen is recommended by the WHO to reduce mosquito populations, it is one of 12 larvicides that WHO recommends that does so. Pyriproxyfen has been in use since the ’90s.
WHO confirmed that there is no correlation between the larvicide and the cases of microcephaly, due to the fact that the larvicide leaves the body 48 hours after ingestion through urine. There have been animal studies conducted, with no birth defects reported. Furthermore, officials from Recife, which is known to be the site of origin for the Zika Virus, stated that the city has never used the larvicide to fight the disease-carrying insect. There is a scientific link that can be traced between the Zika Virus and microcephaly, where the virus has been found in the samples of amniotic fluid, blood, and tissue given. This evidence renders the conspiracy theory that the cases of microcephaly are related to the larvicide Pyriproxyfen false.
Theory: The Zika Virus is Spread by Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
Another popular conspiracy theory is the idea that the Zika Virus Carriers are a manufactured threat. This theory seems to have its origins in a Reddit post that has caught onto the public imaginations like wildfire, spreading throughout Twitter. According to Fortune, more than one-third of Americans surveyed in a poll at a Public Policy Center in Pennsylvania believe that the mosquitoes spreading the Zika Virus have been genetically modified. The original Reddit post bemoaned the arrogance of man, tampering with nature. It referenced the case of a British company, Oxford Insect Technologies (Oxitech) releasing genetically modified mosquitos close to Juazeiro, Brazil.
As it turns out, Oxitec did release genetically modified mosquitoes. The male mosquitoes were engineered to combat dengue, a lethal disease that affects millions of people every year. There is no known cure or vaccine, so the next best option is to kill the carriers, the Aedes Aegypti male mosquitoes, the same carriers of the Zika Virus. In 2012, Fortune’s Spector wrote about how Oxitec used chemicals to change the genetic makeup of the world’s deadliest creature. Zika Virus carrying insects never have the chance to spread more disease.
Essentially, the mosquitoes had their genetic makeup adjusted to where one gene would produce too much of a particular protein to create new healthy cells. The mosquitoes stay alive in the scientists care as they grow thanks to the food they are given. They are fed goat and fish blood laced with the antibiotic tetracycline, which attaches to the protein. The protein is satisfied as long as the antibiotic is on board.
Once the mosquitoes are released, they no longer have the drug, and the gene goes into lethal action. Eggs fertilized by the males perish, as do the males themselves. So the potentially disease-carrying insects never have the chance to spread more disease. Oxitec destroyed females and released the males into the area, which was thousands of miles away from Juazeiro. The modified males would find females and die, and the eggs would expire before hatching and sprouting wings to reproduce.
The life span of an Aegis Aegypti mosquito is relatively short, between 10 days to two weeks and they do not typically travel far, up to a few hundred yards. These mosquitoes did exactly what they were supposed to do, reproduce and die. The release has also occurred 4 years ago. So the time frame for this conspiracy theory does not add up if these genetically modified mosquitoes are meant to be responsible for the Zika Virus concerns.
Spector was particularly concerned about the voracious approach that social media was circulating this conspiracy as he had visited the Oxitec headquarters to write the 2012 story about the mosquitoes that were poised to help eliminate the spread of a horrible debilitating disease. He mentioned the tendency human beings have to point the finger everywhere and anywhere to place blame when previously unseen illnesses strike, reminding them of their fragile position in the world.
Infectious diseases are everywhere, and due to the fast rate of global travel, people are incredibly susceptible. According to CNN, the Zika Virus has been shown to have been passed on from a man to a woman, through sexual transmission. This is no time to allow the ease of blame and quick solutions obfuscate scientific process. Some research and fact checking can eradicate most of the fear-based conspiracy theories found online.
By Juanita Lewis
The New Yorker: The Dangerous Conspiracy Theories About the Zika Virus
National Geographic: Why Zika Is This Year’s Scary Virus
The Wall Street Journal: The Brazilian Doctors Who Sounded the Alarm on Zika and Microcephaly
Politifact: Canadian website wrongly links whooping cough vaccine to Zika
CNN: First known sexual transmission of Zika virus in U.S. was eight years ago
Image Courtesy of Tarek Mahmud’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License