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These days, it’s hard to get a straight answer when it comes to your health questions. Today, Living Well Daily will answer two important reader questions and supply you with a few helpful tips for living well.
- Did the plot of a 1998 movie predict the recent Zika virus? Sort of… find out more
- The latest genetically modified Zika preventative may be doing more harm than good
- Two ways to keep you and your family Zika free!
“Wait… what? People are getting Zika from what? That sounds like an old The X-Files movie!”
“Yes, I am telling you I just read that on the way here.”
“Huh? OK, I will look into it. Anything seems possible with a new pandemic virus.”
This is an exceprt from my conversation Tuesday night when I went to dinner with several friends. Like lots of people, we were talking about the recent outbreak of the Zika virus.
In this group, the main talking points and concerns were the health and well-being of our friend who is expecting a child. While she has no plans to visit Brazil or anywhere else south of Balitmore before her due date, we were all pitching in our two cents about what she should do to stay safe.
At this point, another friend brought up what he had read about the transmission of the Zika virus on his way to dinner — and it blew my mind.
What he told me had silimlarities to an old X-Files movie I remembered from many years ago — gentically modified vectors, a rapidly spreading virus, and horrify outcomes.
I will share these X-Files-like discoveries and natural ways to prevent mosquito contact in the arriving warmer weather in just a bit.
First, let’s talk about how the Zika virus is spread and its health concerns.
Zika: A Vector-borne Crisis
Zika is a virus that is spread by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjuntivitis. The illness can be mild, and symptoms may last several days to a week.
Most folks who become infected don’t require hospitalization, and deaths are almost unheard of.1
As of right now, the most at-risk populations for Zika are pregant women. Unlike the rest of the poplation, preganant women run this risk of having a child affected with microcephaly caused by the virus.
In fact, due to a suspected causal like between Zika and the birth of children afflicted with microcephaly, the World Health Organization (WHO) delared the Zika virus a “public heath emergency of international concern.” Zika-related microcephally cases have been reported in Brazil and French Polynesia.1
Babies born with microcephaly have abnormally small heads due to an underdeveloped brain. The interuption in brain growth can happen before or after birth and causes the small size and shape of the head.
Depending on the severity of the microcephaly, those affected with this disease may have other health issues, like developmental delay, seizures, balance and movement issues, hearing and vision problems, and feeding issues.2
Since October, there have been 4,180 reported cases of microcephaly in Brazil. However, experts think that around 300 of these cases were linked to Zika. But that doesn’t mean cases of Zika-linked microcephaly will not increase in the next few months.3
While scientists struggle to understand the link between the virus and microcephaly, public health professionals may need to gear up for an onslaught of infections.
Lavinia Schuler-Faccini, president of the Brazil Medical Genetic Society, reports:
It’s a serious problem especially because it is spreading. We might have 4,000 cases at this moment, but we might have that in the next month not only in Brazil but in other countries.3
To make this outbreak possibility even more alarming, there a have been cases of Guillan-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder than may lead to paralysis popping up in Zika-infected areas.
But it gets scarier.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control reported that pregnant women should not engage in unprotected sex with a male partner who has travelled to countries experiencing outbreaks due to a case of sexually transmitted Zika found in Texas.
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden reported:
There have been isolated cases spread through blood transfusion or sexual contact, and that’s not very surprising. The virus is in the blood for about a week. How long it would remain in the semen is something that needs to be studied, and we’re working on that now.5
However, it appears that sexual transmission is not the leading cause of transmission. Frieden went on to say, “What we know is the vast majority of spread is going to be from mosquitoes. The bottom line is mosquitoes are the real culprit here.”5
Let’s find out a little bit more about these mosquitoes.
The X-Files Connection
To make short of this mediocre film, I will hit the highlights as they relate to the Zika virus.
In the 1998 X-Files movie Fight the Future, Mulder and Scully (the main characters, detecives that chase down goventment conspiracies and aliens for a living) are investigating a newly spreading virus.
The two detectives find evidence of the government or some other elite entity using genetically modified bees in order to help spread an alien virus. The virus is thought to be used for either turning the population into aliens or reducing it.
OK, so you might be wondering… What on Earth does this have to do with the Zika virus?
Here it goes…
Aedes aegypti is the mosquito responsible for the recent outbreak of the Zika virus.
But these little winged vectors were spreading dengue fever, a sometimes lethal disease, in Brazil in 2012, before this recent Zika emergence. In order to help curtail the populations of the dengue-spreading Aedes aegypti, genetically modified mosquitoes were released in Brazil.
They released more GMO mosquitoes in July 2015 once the Zika outbreak became a threat.
These mosquitoes, a product of a British biotech company called Oxitec, are designed to halt the mosquito populations by out breeding wild mosquitoes. To accomplish this, Oxitec releases only male mosquitoes into the wild. When these GMO males mate with wild females, their offspring die before breeding age due to the genetic modification.6
Here is a map of where the genetically modified mosquitoes were released:
Juazeiro, Brazil Photo credit: theantimedia.org
And now it’s time for the X-Files connection… My friend explained to me that he had just read GMO mosquitoes maybe the cause of the outbreaks.
Below is a map of microcephaly cases in Brazil that are suspected to be caused by the increased Zika outbreak.
Possible Zika-related microcephaly cases. Photo Credit:theantimedia.org
By looking at this map, it is easy to come to the conclusion that these GMO mosquitoes are not decreasing the Zika outbreak. Instead, they may be increasing it. (Just like the GMO X-File bees.)
One possible reason for this is the presence of tetracycline, a commonly used antibiotic in farming.
An Oxitec document released in 2012 reported that a 15% survival rate for their GMO mosquito is possible if there are even tiny amounts of tetracycline in the environment. Oxitec discovered this by feeding larvae cat food that had tetracycline present.
The report states, “A small amount of tetracycline was being added from the food to the larvae and repressing the lethal system.”7
But as with all GMO products, the real dangers are never fully known. There is no surefire way to know if all these released mosquitoes are male or if changing environmental conditions may help these modified vectors survive.
And just like in TheX-Files, it’s not too far-fetched to think these genetically modified mosquitoes might be doing more harm than help.
The best way to stay safe from the Zika virus is to avoid mosquitoes. As the warmer months approach, it’s time to get out those citronella candles and bug spray.
DEET-free, natural bug repellents are available on the market. I have used this one before with success.
Another good way to prevent mosquito populations is to dump out and prevent any standing water. Starting turning over empty buckets or other vessels now before the warmer months hit.
In addition, just as the CDC recommends, if you are a woman of childbearing age or are pregnant, be sure to abstain from or practice safe sex with any partner who may have travelled to an area where Zika could be present.
If you have any natural mosquito fighting tips or comments on the Zika outbreak, share them! Nmoore@lfb.org
Managing editor, Living Well Daily