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Amidst growing fear-based propaganda warning of the threat of Zika virus comes a quiet admission from health officials in Brazil: Zika alone may not be responsible for the rise in birth defects that plagued parts of the country.
While there is some evidence suggesting Zika virus may be linked to the birth defect microcephaly, and the virus has been spreading throughout Brazil, rates of the condition have only risen to very high rates in the northeast section of Brazil. Since the virus has spread throughout Brazil, but extremely high rates of microcephaly have not, officials are now being forced to admit that something else is likely at play.
Dr. Fatima Marinho, director of information and health analysis at Brazil’s ministry of health, told the journal Nature, “We suspect that something more than Zika virus is causing the high intensity and severity of cases.”
Nearly 90 Percent of Brazil’s Microcephaly Cases Occurred in the Northeast
Since last November, more than 1,700 confirmed cases of congenital microcephaly or other birth defects of the central nervous system have been reported in Brazil.
When the cases first began and were reportedly linked to Zika virus, health officials believed they’d see “an explosion of birth defects” across Brazil, according to Marinho. But that hasn’t happened.
Data compiled by Marinho and colleagues, which has been submitted for publication, suggest socio-economic factors may be involved. Most of the women who gave birth to babies with microcephaly were poor and lived in small cities or on the outskirts of big cities.
In addition, the outbreak occurred in a largely poverty-stricken agricultural area of Brazil that uses large amounts of banned pesticides.
Between these factors and the lack of sanitation and widespread vitamin A and zinc deficiency, you have the basic framework for an increase in poor health outcomes among newborn infants in that area.
Environmental pollution and toxic pesticide exposure have been positively linked to a wide array of adverse health effects, including birth defects. For instance:
- Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of microcephaly
- The CDC lists malnutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals as known risk factors
- The CDC also notes certain infections during pregnancy, including rubella, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis and others, are risk factors
Data is Lacking to Confirm Zika-Microcephaly Link
It’s also been suggested that microcephaly may be the result of Zika virus occurring alongside other infections, such as dengue and chikungunya.
The Brazilian doctor who first reportedly established the link between Zika virus and microcephaly is even considering whether another disease, Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), may be involved, as BVDV proteins were also detected in the brains of three fetuses with microcephaly.
BVDV causes birth defects in cattle but is not known to infect people. Researchers suggested that infection with Zika virus may make it easier for BVDV to infect humans.
Adding to the complexities, much of the microcephaly data from Brazil comes from incomplete hospital reports. In most cases, tests to confirm Zika infection were not carried out.
In June 2016, the Zika in Infants and Pregnancy Study was launched in Puerto Rico. It aims to monitor up to 10,000 pregnant women to examine Zika virus along with nutritional, socio-economic and environmental factors and their potential link to birth defects. However, the results of a similar study have only raised further doubts.
12,000 Zika Cases Confirmed in Pregnant Colombian Women — Zero Microcephaly Cases
According to a report by the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), there are serious questions about whether Zika virus is the cause of microcephaly. They cite the preliminary results of a New England Journal of Medicine study, which followed nearly 12,000 pregnant Colombian women infected with Zika virus.
No cases of microcephaly were reported in their babies as of May 2016, yet four cases of microcephaly were reported among women who had Zika infection with no symptoms and were therefore not included in the study.
The researchers then speculated that this means there could be four times as many cases of Zika infection that are unreported, for a total of at least 60,000 Zika-infected pregnancies in Colombia.
Using this data, an analysis revealed the rate of microcephaly to be what would be expected in any area, whether Zika is in the picture or not, which is 2 cases in 10,000 births. According to NECSI:
“This gives a consistent interpretation that there is no direct link between Zika and microcephaly except for random co-occurrence.
We note that the base rate of microcephaly in the absence of Zika is 140 per year in Colombia, which is consistent with the approximately 50 microcephaly cases in the first [four] months of 2016, only [four] of which have been connected to Zika. When interpreting Zika as the cause, background cases must be subtracted.”
By June 2016, 11 total microcephaly cases had been reported in women with Zika infections in Colombia. If Zika and microcephaly are linked, NECSI pointed out that the total number of microcephaly cases should rise dramatically in the next few months, reaching more than 10 microcephaly-Zika births each week.
NECSI also suggested, “An alternative cause of microcephaly in Brazil could be the pesticide pyriproxyfen, which is cross-reactive with retinoic acid, which causes microcephaly, and is being used in drinking water.”
WHO Expert: Zika Response ‘Completely Hysterical’
Florence Fouque, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert on animals that carry viruses, called the public response to the Zika virus “completely hysterical.” She blamed the hysteria on the findings that the virus affects pregnant women and can be sexually transmitted.
“It’s like AIDS,” she told PRI. “People make this link and that’s why they are really afraid.” At one restaurant in downtown Miami, Florida, where a handful of Zika cases were detected in August 2016, insect repellent was placed on all the tables.
Even Oliver Brady, an epidemiologist with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was asked by Brazilian officials to assess the Zika-microcephaly situation, said there’s no conclusive evidence that Zika causes birth defects in humans.
He told PRI that while animal studies have shown the virus attacks brain cells, this isn’t “final proof:”
“You see that with a lot of arboviruses [viruses spread by mosquitoes and other insects] … They have pathogenic qualities and if you put them in the right tissue then they will cause some sort of damage. And they tend to be quite transmissible across a variety of barriers anyway.
So it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the mechanism that’s happening out there in the field, even if it does work in the lab.”
National Institutes of Health Launches Trial for Experimental Zika Vaccine
The U.S. is among those ignoring data and rushing to launch a vaccine against Zika virus before it’s even known whether it’s causing birth defects. What is known, however, is that experimental vaccines have real risks, which are often downplayed in the wake of perceived global “emergencies” such as Zika.
In August 2016, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it launched a clinical trial of an experimental Zika vaccine — again, before there is conclusive proof that Zika causes microcephaly.
Eighty healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35 will be vaccinated with varying doses of the experimental vaccine. No placebos will be given. The vaccine is said to be similar to a West Nile Virus vaccine that was previously developed by the NIH, but has not yet been approved. This alone should be a red flag, as should the disastrous outcome of the CYD-TDV vaccine, the first dengue vaccine approved by WHO in April 2016.
Dengue Vaccine Hints at Potential Problems With Zika Vaccines
Dr. Scott B. Halstead, former senior adviser of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative and the founder of Children’s Vaccine Initiative, told the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:
“It’s happened. We have a vaccine that enhances dengue … It’s clear as the nose on my face: Vaccine recipients less than 5 years old had five to seven times more rates of hospitalizations for severe dengue virus than placebo controls.”
He’s referring to the results of a three-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which suggest the vaccine causes antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). Halstead explained:“Over time, you make and keep protective levels of antibody from the initial infection, but you lose the cross-reactive antibodies … That allows a second dengue infection to cause severe illness … “
At this point, it’s unknown how this relates to Zika virus, but it’s possible that pre-existing immunity to dengue may lead to more severe infection with Zika virus. The University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy quoted concerns voiced by Dr. Philip K. Russell, the former director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, as well as founding president and chairman of the Sabin Vaccine Institute: