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Zika Virus Watch
Hard Times Coming in the Caribbean

CDC officials have announced definitive findings that the Zika virus causes microcephaly (unusually small heads) and brain damage in the newborn babies of infected mothers. The New York Times reports:

“There is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C. director. He said the conclusion, reached after evaluating “mounting evidence from many studies,” signifies “an unprecedented association” in medicine.

“Never before in history has there been a situation where a bite from a mosquito can result in a devastating malformation,” Dr. Frieden said.

[…]Not only can Zika cause the condition, Dr. Rasmussen said, but it appears to cause more severe forms of it. Microcephaly caused by the Zika virus resembles a particularly destructive type called “fetal brain disruption sequence,” which includes serious problems with swallowing and bending joints. “Even just the measurements of the babies’ heads are much smaller” than in other types of microcephaly, she said.

Beyond microcephaly, Dr. Rasmussen said, the authors concluded that Zika causes some other fetal brain problems, such as calcifications inside the skull. But much remains unknown, including whether Zika harms other organs, how likely it is that women infected with Zika will have brain-damaged babies, and to what extent the risk varies according to when inpregnancy the infection occurs.

Dr. Rasmussen said other brain defects may also be linked to Zika infection. “We do expect that this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg,” she said, “that there will be babies who won’t have the small head per se, but will have other types of brain defects.”

The WHO has also said that there is evidence that Zika causes other complications, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, that the CDC has not yet been able to confirm.

Zika continues to evolve into an ever-scarier health threat—and that’s not just bad news for locals in the Caribbean and Central America who might be exposed to the disease. It’s bad for all the countries that depend on winter tourism. We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: the Caribbean is not in good shape. Venezuela continues to move toward chaos and civil conflict; drug smuggling remains so dominant that many economies are being bought up by drug lords; the opening of Cuba, while good for that island, will provide competition to many other tourist islands with few other revenue options; and now this.

For Americans this means more migration, including illegals and unescorted children, and possibly a less safe neighborhood. And American citizens in Southern states are also at risk directly from infection. Fighting Zika therefore should be a priority.

While we’re not doctors or scientists, as a political, public health, and foreign policy matter, the broad priorities would seem to be, firstly, to find a way to kill the mosquitoes that carry the disease, even if that means taking another look at banned pesticides. At the same time, we need to be developing tests and treatments for the disease on a crash basis. Then, there’s hunt for the long term solution—a vaccine.

Fortunately, this sort of research and mobilization has been a longstanding strength of the United States government. We should make the most of our institutional capacities now, and act quickly.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Scarier yet, the one case reported so far in the US was sexually transmitted.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Sex with a mosquito? Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww………….

  • Pait

    Actually, the 1st priority is to prevent the mosquito from multiplying near humans, which essentially means getting rid of still water where the mosquito breeds. Still water accumulates in bottles, tires, planters, discarded containers, and many objects often found near homes. It is not a difficult or costly step, but it does require changes of habits and continuous vigilance by the part of people who are often not used to doing it.

    Although “we are not doctors or scientists,” we all need to pay attention to basic measures of public health, even when our preference may be to resort to some magic chemical or banned pesticide, which doesn’t work very well against the Aedes anyway.

    • Fat_Man

      You mean ecologically important wetlands should be drained?

      Heaven Forfend.

      • Pait

        No, the Aedes aegypti mosquito reproduces in small areas of stagnant, preferably clean water, such as buckets and vases. Most dangerous are indoors areas such as wet shower floors and toilet bowls. Larger water bodies are much less of a problem, 1st because the water is in movement, 2nd because they are not so close to humans and the mosquito doesn’t travel long distances.

        Your attempt at reducing everything to ideological preferences, although very common among some regulars in this blog, is utter nonsense. Nature has its own facts and rules, and they don’t conform to your WE x THEY line of thought.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Time to start an earnest effort to eradicate mosquitos…one of the most useless and unpleasant creatures on the planet.

    • Jim__L

      I would miss dragonflies.

    • Andrew Allison

      ” . . . the total extinction of all mosquito species would be as senseless as it would be impossible.”
      http://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/feb/10/should-we-wipe-mosquitoes-off-the-face-of-the-earth

      • f1b0nacc1

        While I dearly enjoy reading the Guardian, I am not likely to take their opinions about what can and cannot be accomplished too seriously. After all, these are the same experts that assured us Gordon Brown’s economic planning would be remembered for its brilliance.

        Regarding the disease issue, I don’t doubt that we will have to find other ways to deal with that. We don’t have to take just one avenue of attack, do we?

        • Pait

          Aedes aegypti doesn’t give a bite to your opinion of the Guardian. It will bite whoever is in their way, ideological preference is not an effective defense.

          • f1b0nacc1

            You really aren’t that bright, are you? My point was that there are numerous ways to exterminate ANY species, and the Guardian’s rather pedestrian concerns notwithstanding, the practical difficulties are less about whether it will work as opposed to should it work.
            I am done with you….ta ta…

          • Pait

            Aedes aegypti doesn’t care for your opinions of me either.

        • Andrew Allison

          “dearly enjoy”? I didn’t take you for a closet progressive [grin] As I recall, the Guardian was quoting, not offering an opinion.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The Guardian is quite entertaining (the UK version anyway, I find the US version rather bland), especially the zoo in Comment is Free. Their coverage of the news is actually quite good…it is an essential part of my day.

          • Andrew Allison

            I find their climate change coverage especially “entertaining” — speaking of which, did you catch the (not in The (former Manchester) Guardian news today that the rapid melting of the Greenland ice has nothing to do with global warming? It’s caused by geothermal heating.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Once again we agree! Their climate change news is deeply amusing, and their op-eds (Monbiot is both funny and poignant…he really does try to take a principled position that I suspect even he knows to be nonsense) are worth the price of admission all on their own.
            Re: Greenland…I did see that, and found it intriguing. Of course the true believers won’t care…after all, the goal of the climate change movement is to achieve by fiat what revolution and democracy failed to give them….more power.

          • Andrew Allison

            A principled position upon something which he knows to be nonsense? GMAB. Sadly, what was once (under its former name) a newspaper is now merely another mouthpiece for the left. Just to be clear, I agree that it’s posturing is amusing to the sentient, but fear that most of the readership is insensate.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I’ve met Monbiot a few times…get him off the record and he is troubled by the way the whole thing plays out. Don’t get me wrong, he is a committed socialist (his latest book lays that out pretty clearly), but he isn’t unaware of the inherent contradictions.

            Regarding the Guardian, their straight news coverage is actually quite good. I am far more likely to get a real story from them than the NYT or WaPo

          • Andrew Allison

            I’ve been banned from commenting because of my climate change heresies. The Guardian was in the vanguard of censorship.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Hey, they even let ME comment….you must have really antagonized them….I am impressed!

          • Andrew Allison

            Well yes, pointing out the facts about climate change does tend to induce antagonism among the true believers. The weakness of their case is illustrated by the widespread efforts to prevent dissent.

      • Pait

        Transmission by mosquitoes is orders of magnitude more efficient. I think the fear of sexual transmission is misguided, perhaps attributable to excessive prudishness or prurient interest 😉

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