Zika can make a pretty photograph, but when spread from mother to fetus in the first trimester of pregnancy, the picture is not so attractive. The World Health Organization (WHO) has its hands full just trying to keep up with global spread of the emergent virus in all its variations. Clinical and laboratory scientists are just beginning to fill in the enormous gaps in knowledge about this emerging menace.
A new report looking at brain imaging of infants and fetuses with Zika infections reveals what can happen when a fetus gets the virus.
In the study, published in the journal Radiology, the researchers looked at brain scans of 45 babies and fetuses in Brazil who were infected with Zika. They report that while microcephaly is one of the well-known complications associated with the virus, they also observed several other brain abnormalities like gray- and white-matter loss, issues with the brain stem and fluid buildup.
… “It’s not just the small brain, it’s that there’s a lot more damage,” study author Dr. Deborah Levine, a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, told the New York Times. “The abnormalities that we see in the brain suggest a very early disruption of the brain development process.”
Up until recently, the media focus has been on Latin America and the Caribbean. But with the recent epidemic in Singapore — and new cases of a different strain in Africa — biomedical scientists and epidemiologists are growing aware of a larger threat.
The 10 Countries with Greatest Risks of Exposure
- India (1.2 billion at risk in peak month)
- China (240 million at risk in peak month)
- Indonesia (197 million at risk in peak month)
- Nigeria (179 million at risk in peak month)
- Pakistan (168 million at risk in peak month)
- Bangladesh (163 million at risk in peak month)
- Vietnam (83 million at risk in peak month)
- Philippines (70 million at risk in peak month)
- Thailand (59 million at risk in peak month
- Burma (51 million at risk in peak month)
India is particularly worrying because of its huge population living with climates favourable to the spread of the virus, not to mention the fact that there is plenty of standing water in which mosquitos can breed.
“Hopefully we will not see the same kind of situation as occurred in Brazil,” Dr. Khan said of India.
“WHO recommends practising safer sex or abstinence for a period of six months for men and women who are returning from areas of active transmission… to prevent Zika virus infection through sexual transmission,” the agency said. __ Safe Sex for Six Months
The Emergence of Zika is Occurring at a Time When other Sexually Transmitted Infections are Growing more Difficult to Treat
Incidence and prevalence of sexually spread diseases are particularly high in sub Saharan Africa and among African-derived persons living around the globe. As African birth rates continue to explode — along with African dysfunction of all types — the addition of new medical difficulties in treating common infections in Africans is unwelcome news.
The infections causing extra worry these days are gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning statement Tuesday that some antibiotics are now failing due to overuse and misuse, though gonorrhea has developed the strongest resistance to antibiotics of the three bacterial infections. “Because of widespread resistance, older and cheaper antibiotics have lost their effectiveness in treatment of the infection,” WHO said. The organization recommended new guidelines for treating the STIs, no longer suggesting doctors prescribe an entire class of antibiotics — quinolones — because strains of gonorrhea resistant to it have formed across the globe. __ http://www.thefrisky.com/2016-09-02/gonorrhea-and-other-stis-are-becoming-more-and-more-untreatable/
Abuse of antibiotics is particularly egregious in the third world, where even the strongest antibiotics can be sold over the counter for treating relatively minor illnessess — or even to treat viral diseases, which do not typically respond to conventional antibiotics.
Is the Worry Over Zika and Microcephaly Overblown?
Only if you have an ideological agenda that trumps genuine medical concerns. Zika does not usually cause microcephaly in children born to infected mothers. Microcephaly occurs in children of mothers who are not infected with Zika — and always has. Other viral infections contribute to the occurrence of microcephaly, as do some chemical and other environmental factors.
Biomedical causation is far more complex than most persons can understand. For example, microcephaly would continue to arise even if all Zika viruses were eliminated. At the same time, it is likely that the world-wide incidence of microcephaly would be lower without the influence of Zika virus during the first trimester of pregnancy in infected mothers.
Other complications of Zika virus infection — in children and in adults — may prove worse than microcephaly. Even so, the spectre of existential risk hovers around the implied threat of any large scale global pandemic that renders large parts of the population mentally incapable of contributing to normal human existence.
It is Too Early to Know All the Facts and Dynamics
So far, Zika seems to spread most readily in warm weather climates such as one finds in the tropics. But viruses — and other disease-causing organisms and vectors — are crafty in their shapeshifting capacities. Remember the Ebola scare of 2014 and 2015? Imagine an Ebola strain that goes airborne, touching down in populous cities around the world almost simultaneously. No mosquitoes required.
Ebola is like a wildfire that burns itself out quickly if confined. Zika has a more subtle impact, and hosts typically remain infectious via sexual contact for a much longer time. And if you look at a virus like HIV, you see the other end of the contagion spectrum, with a deadly virus that can also remain infectious for decades. Three distinct viral types that require completely different approaches for treatment and eventual eradication.
With Zika, perhaps it is the combination of sexual spread and fetal infection / brain damage that is most worrying. Mosquito nets, repellant, and insecticides cannot control that avenue of attack once it has been opened.
It is not Really Zika that is the Problem
If humans were brighter and more free to act, they could deal with threats like Zika every day of the week without fail, achieving eradication in every case where desired. The fact that humans suffer such angst and uncertainty over a relatively small — although disturbing — threat of this nature reveals the underlying fatal flaw in the modern human enterprise.
Obvious, but perhaps requiring some explanation in the future.
Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Think outside the box, in the ways of disruptive innovation and creative destruction. Defy the overlords by breaking through the bounds of conventional thought and wisdom.
It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood.