Huge New Doubts that Zika Causes MicrocephalyUpdated: November 23, 2017 Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & Child
Major media, after all, doesn’t exactly have a solid reputation for covering epidemics accurately and objectively. If you doubt this, consider that since 2002, there have been no less than four localized epidemics that the CDC warned were going to cause worldwide armageddon.
Let me refresh your memory if these events don’t readily come to mind:
- SARS: This first mutated viral scare occurred from 2002 -2003. It quickly fizzled to nothing with not a single new case of SARS reported worldwide since 2004.
- Bird flu: Remember this doozy from 2006? The U.S. government warned at the time that a new avian super-flu could kill nearly two million Americans. If we were “lucky” bird flu would cause 200,000 fatalities. Hyperbole much?
- H1N1 (Swine flu): After the dust started to settle on the H1N1 fiasco, Wolfgang Wodarg, head of health at the Council of Europe, declared the swine flu outbreak to be a ‘false pandemic’ driven by drug companies that stood to make billions from a worldwide scare. He accused the makers of flu drugs and vaccines of influencing the World Health Organisation’s decision to declare a pandemic with millions being vaccinated against a relatively mild disease. Touché Wolfgang.
- Ebola: The most recent scare occurred in 2014 with heavy localized outbreaks in Africa whipped into fears of a global catastrophe. The truth? More people are killed by lightning strikes every year than died in that particular outbreak which was the worst ebola epidemic in Africa’s history. Still worried?
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
It makes sense to view the reporting on Zika with a skeptical eye if for no other reason than government and media reporting of such events tend to be heavily sensationalized. Consider that the Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947, and yet there hasn’t been a single report of microcephaly at ground zero. Zika is such a mild infection that Associated Press journalists who visited the Zika Forest early in 2016 discovered local officials who had absolutely no concern about the Zika virus and its impact on people (1).
As it turns out, suspicions about Zika infection in pregnant women as the cause of microcephaly are very well placed.
The New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), an independent academic research and educational institution, is raising new questions about Brazil’s microcephaly epidemic that cannot be ignored by any thinking person. Continuation of hysterical media and government claims that Zika is causing birth defects are irresponsible in the face of these concerns.
The truth is that the assumed connection between Zika and microcephaly flat out does not exist, and the recently published report by the NECSI shines a glaring spotlight on the mistake.
Zika and Birth Defects: There is NO Causation
Here’s the bottom line question raised by the NECSI report:
If Zika truly is the culprit, why are there no similar epidemics of microcephaly in other countries that are also experiencing heavy outbreaks of the virus?
For example, Brazil’s microcephaly rate has soared with more than 1,500 confirmed cases as of June 2016.
In nearby Colombia, however, which is also experiencing heavy rates of Zika infection, the story is completely different.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a preliminary report in June 2016 regarding results of a large study of 12,000 pregnant Colombian women infected with Zika. Out of this very large study group all with clinical symptoms of Zika infections, not a single case of microcephaly was reported as of May 2, 2016 (2).
If Zika is to blame for microcephaly in Brazil, where are all the missing cases next door in Colombia?
According to the NESCI report, the numbers just don’t add up. There is no direct link between Zika and microcephaly except for random co-occurrence.
As of April 28, 2016, Colombia has reported 50 cases of microcephaly in total. Only four of these have been connected with Zika and all of these cases were symptomless infections and as such, not included in the large symptom-based study described above.
These four cases that were not included indicate that there are many more pregnancies affected by Zika where no symptoms of the virus are present. According to the NESCI analysis of the data, there should be at least 60,000 Zika-infected pregnancies in Colombia, but if so, where are all the missing cases of microcephaly?
The NECSI report analyzes the data and shows that the four cases of Zika and microcephaly [without symptoms] that have been observed till April 28 are just what would be expected due to the background rate — of the 60,000 pregnancies about 20,000 births would already be expected. The expected microcephaly rate for countries with no reported infections of 2-in-10,000 births gives exactly four cases. The study also notes that until April 28 there has been a total of about 50 microcephaly cases in Colombia, of which only four have been connected with Zika. The four cases are expected for the coincidence of Zika and microcephaly in the same pregnancies even if Zika is not the cause (2).
As a result of this report, the NESCI states that the cause of microcephaly in Brazil should be reconsidered as the connection with Zika isn’t holding up to scrutiny.
Other Possible Causes of Microcephaly in Brazil
If Zika is not the cause of microcephaly in newborns, then what is? Here are some possible culprits that have been suggested for further study.
Genetically Modified (GM) Mosquitoes
The Brazilian government released GM mosquitoes in 2015 in an effort to control the spread of Dengue. The epicenter of the microcephaly epidemic is in the same location as the release (3).
Only GM male mosquitoes were released as part of this effort with the goal that they will mate with females to produce GM larvae that die before they reach breeding age. This GM “kill switch” is turned off, however, if tetracycline exposure occurs during larvae development.
Here’s where the problem emerges. Brazil is the third largest user in the world of tetracycline (antibiotic) infused animal feed. A study by the American Society of Agronomy suggested that “approximately 75% of antibiotics are not absorbed by animals and are excreted in waste.” What’s more, tetracycline is specifically named in the report as one of the antibiotics known for its environmental persistence, aka slow breakdown.
Could tetrycline in the Brazilian environment have turned off the kill switch in the GM mosquito larvae? If so, could these now super GM mosquitoes with the potential for carrying the Zika virus have transferred this franken-DNA to their human hosts leading to developmental disruption in fetuses?
While all of this is speculative, it certainly warrants further study given that Zika alone does not appear to be causatively responsible for Brazil’s microcephaly epidemic.
The pesticide pyriproxyfen is applied to drinking water in some parts of Brazil to kill mosquito larvae that transmit Dengue and also (now) Zika.
Pyriproxyfen is a toxic chemical compound that is structurally similar to a hormone present in insect juveniles. This hormone is cross reactive with retinoic acid, a compound derived from Vitamin A which is necessary for normal development of the human fetus. Impairment of retinoic acid signaling during fetal development is a known cause of microcephaly.
In addition, the herbicide glyphosate in products like Roundup that are heavily sprayed on GM crops have been found to produce similar negative effects in vertebrate development. In 2015, Brazil was the second largest producer of GM crops in the world after the United States.
The link between glyphosate and impaired vertebrate development was discovered by Dr. Alejandra Paganelli who reported in 2010 in the Journal Chemical Research in Toxicology that “glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signaling” (4).
As a result of this smoking gun, the NESCI has joined with a physicians group in Brazil and Argentina and the Swedish Toxicology Sciences Research Center in calling for further studies of the potential link between pesticides and microcephaly.
Mandatory vaccination of all Brazilian pregnant women with the DTAP vaccine began in 2014. Tdap is classified by the FDA as a Class C drug, which means the following:
Animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks.
Consequently, some sources have suggested this shot as the possible cause for microcephaly. However, the DTAP (DPT) vaccine has also been widely administered in the UK to pregnant women without reports of increases in cases of microcephaly.
At this time, it appears that the most likely cause of the microcephaly epidemic in Brazil that has yet to appear in other countries affected by Zika is due to widespread pesticide use. This pesticide exposure can occur via widespread GM crop production and also via the addition of Vitamin A disrupting pesticides to the Brazilian water supply.
In the meantime, until the true causative source of the Brazilian microcephaly epidemic is found, don’t freak out about Zika. It is a mild infection that is asymptomatic in most people and has not been conclusively shown to harm pregnant women or their babies.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist