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Thursday, April 28, 2016

ZIKA – A Cautionary Tale of Recycling, International Trade and Travel

By John McCormick -  Mon February 1, 2016

UPDATE: Since this was published there is much more evidence of microcephaly along with some possible ways to mitigate the damage. There is also evidence that everyone is at risk of some neurologic damage from Zika.
Nevertheless I am including this because it contains other important information about Zika.

It is far from certain yet but it is believed the birth defect (microcephaly, meaning small head) which is occurring in large numbers in Brazil is being caused by a virus, specifically the Zika virus which is carried by a mosquito. One reason this is being suggested is that a similar virus, a cytomegalovirus, is known to cause microcephaly.

If this were limited to a few slums it might not be of much interest elsewhere but every indication is that the mosquito and the infection are both spreading at alarming rates to other countries and Zika has already been found in the U.S.


Nothing in our general experience demonstrates the inevitability of mathematics more dramatically than does a developing pandemic.

The mathematics behind a pandemic or epidemic are simple. Some diseases, especially ones where there is little immunity in the population, no vaccine, and is easy to spread, grow exponentially. Exponentially means the number of infected people essentially doubles every day.

No Threat To Most People

Zika is no more threat to the elderly, children or men, than the flu, probably less. It is only dangerous to pregnant women, and even then it doesn’t cause any severe symptoms in women; instead, it appears to cause severe birth defects, at least in the current South American epidemic it is thought to be the source of the birth defects.

Five Reasons Zika Will Be More Difficult to Control Than Ebola

There are five reasons why Zika will be more difficult to control than Ebola and therefore perhaps a much bigger threat.

First, it is spread easily by a rapidly proliferating mosquito while Ebola spreads by exposure to bodily fluids from those who are infected. That makes Zika more like the plague which was spread by fleas.
Second, only about 20 percent of those who have contracted Zika have any symptoms significant enough that they even know they have caught anything.
Third, there has been almost no work on a vaccine and when a potential vaccine is developed it will have to be tested on pregnant women eventually, a very difficult proposition ethically since it would involve infecting the pregnant women.
A fourth factor may be the biggest barrier to stopping the spread of Zika – it is most prevalent in tropical environments – perfect breeding grounds for the mosquito. Only DDT is thought to be both an effective and inexpensive insecticide that can control the mosquito population. Unfortunately, DDT is almost as dangerous to people as the Zika virus itself.
Last we come to sex. Yes, it is possible to transmit Zika via sexual contact but It isn’t known yet how easy it is to transmit sexually.
The center of the new infection is Brazil, the location of both an enormous Mardi Gras celebration this February and the upcoming 2016 Olympics. Even a tiny percentage of infected visitors would spread it world-wide in a few weeks.

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