A Zika State of Mind

Going for a Three-Peat

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It is important to scrutinize all ideas and opinions and arguments one encounters in daily life, even those adduced by the humble author of these words. Questioning the validity of a proposition is the first step towards discovering whether it is tenable and, in the parlance, worth its weight in salt. This becomes especially true of assertions made by authority figures, as those individuals tend to proffer meretricious baubles in lieu of assertions backed by reason and evidence.

My followers will undoubtedly be familiar with my scorn for the Zika virus and my contempt for the public health practitioners that promulgate the tenuous proposition: Zika causes microcephaly. The reader may also be aware that I have been dissecting and criticizing the statements and conclusions made about Zika. I’m not convinced Zika causes microcephaly.

Not.

One.

Bit.

Since the whole of the public health community endeavors to stop the spread of Zika, I fear the true cause of microcephaly will remain undiscovered for a considerable time. And this could have harmful consequences.

Remember this gem by Thomas Frieden:

“There is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly…” [emphasis added]

I recoil each time I read it. I suspect any reasonable person would also recoil upon hearing such a fatuous thing uttered. Statements like these also bespeak unabashed anti-scientific proclivities, as no scientific evidence yet adduced has implicated Zika as the cause for microcephaly or any other congenital malformation.

Reading the blog that Thomas Frieden co-authors, one can glean the vast wealth of misinformation and deception that takes place when discussing the Zika virus. (Frieden’s co-author, Anthony S. Fauci, is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.) In the post, Frieden and Fauci assert the dangers Zika poses to unborn children and that it is incumbent on the citizens of the United States to act against this pernicious virus. They also reported: “1,595 pregnant women have been infected with the virus, and tragically, 17 babies have been born in the United States with birth defects related to Zika.”

No one would refute that the birth of children with any congenital malformation is a tragedy. However, I think a reevaluation of the causes of microcephaly must be undertaken as one juxtaposes the low number of birth defects (whatever their causes may be) and the number of pregnancies (in women infected with Zika). Reading further, one has to notice the omission of information related to normal births in the same population. One must look askance at proponents of the claim that Zika causes microcephaly when faced with such large numerical discrepancies and flagrant omissions of data. More numerical discrepancies later.

The most poignant part of the post discusses the redistribution of funds by the Obama administration from other public health endeavors to the zealous enterprise which is Zika research. Those public health endeavors that now suffer include child vaccination programs and HIV/AIDS education, prevention, and treatment programs, among others. More alarming, the National Institutes of Health redirected millions of dollars from cancer and heart disease research toward Zika-related efforts. Thus, the obsession with Zika may now have real and deadly consequences as those humans susceptible to known (and established) diseases and afflictions fail to receive necessary interventions. And this is a scandal.

Brazil has been beset by large numbers of Zika infections which are coincident with the rise in microcephaly cases. Due to this coincidence, it is not surprising to find that Zika is blamed for microcephaly. However, Colombia has also been beset by a large number of Zika infections. For the geographically-challenged, Colombia is adjacent to Brazil. Granting the assumption that Zika has no ethnic bias, if the proposition Zika causes microcephaly is true, it would be reasonable to suspect an increase in microcephaly cases in Colombia as well.

Thus, the obsession with Zika may now have real and deadly consequences as those humans susceptible to established diseases and afflictions fail to receive necessary interventions. And this is a scandal.

Although preliminary monitoring of Zika started following the calamitous event in Brazil, Colombia officially started monitoring Zika in August of 2015. A recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine examined 11,944 women that had been infected with Zika while pregnant. In a subgroup of 1850 expectant mothers (these individuals had complete data regarding gestational age when infected with Zika), approximately 90% of the births had no reported abnormalities. Seven percent had not given birth at the time the study concluded. Further, the study reported 50 cases of possible microcephaly throughout all of Colombia between January 1, 2016 and April 28, 2016, twenty cases of which “were deemed to have resulted from causes other than Zika virus infection.”

Just for the sake of thoroughness, I found this article published by the Guardian in late July, more than two months after the aforementioned study. Behold!

Colombia has closely monitored 17,730 pregnant women believed to have been infected with Zika. Of those 12,587 have given birth and health officials have confirmed 21 cases of Zika-related microcephaly among the newborns. One hundred and sixty other cases are still under study.

And from the same article:

The surge in birth defects has been much more noticeable in Brazil, the country hardest-hit by Zika, with almost 166,000 cases this year. Health officials in that country have confirmed more than 1,700 cases of microcephaly related to Zika infections in mothers. However, nearly 90% of those birth defects have been concentrated in an area in the north-eastern tip of the country, leading researchers at Brazil’s health ministry to suspect that other factors are in play in the rise in microcephaly cases…

Other factors, eh?

There may yet be hope.

Questioning the validity of Zika claims has become more important has the World Health Organization prepares for the spread of Zika to Southeast Asia. I assert that the numerical discrepancies I have adumbrated are evidence against the proposition that Zika causes microcephaly. Not only was the declaration brazenly made by Thomas Frieden premature, it imperils the health of populations worldwide as strenuous efforts are placed into misbegotten avenues of inquiry. Due to the geospatial distribution of congenital malformations in Brazil, the notoriety firmly affixed to Zika is a calumny and may well be due to environmental factors yet to be explored. Alas, with Zika ceasing to be a good suspect, the pertinent question now becomes: what the hell is causing microcephaly?

1 comments on “A Zika State of Mind”

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