One of the big health issues to emerge in 2016 is the Brazilian epidemic of babies tragically born with 'microcephaly' (undeveloped brain) and other deformities. Between October 2015 and January 2016, some 4,000 cases of malformation were reported, with 49 deaths. Health officials were quick to blame Zika virus which had been first identified in Brazil in April/May 2015.
Zika reproduces in many mammalian hosts, especially monkeys, and is transmitted between hosts by a number of mosquito species although direct exchange of body fluids is also a likely route. However, only two years ago, scientists from Brazil and Senegal noted that "humans are occasional hosts" for Zika with "only 14 human cases reported before April 2007".
Historically, most Zika infections in humans have no symptoms, and at worst, cause a minor illness with no distinctive characteristics. However, since its discovery in 1947 and unusually for this type of virus, Zika seems to have undergone a number of genetic changes. This, plus an outbreak of Zika fever on an island in Micronesia in 2007, demonstrated that Zika had the potential to be an emerging disease. Indeed, the current outbreak of the virus in humans has quickly spread across South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The coincidence of geographical distribution plus timing of the Zika infection and the emergence of microcephaly which led to suspicions of a link has since been backed up by laboratory tests: the virus has been found in amniotic fluid, brains, or spinal fluid of afflicted babies; nearly a third of foetuses carried by women who had Zika virus in their blood or urine had abnormalities; laboratory tests of cultured cells established that Zika interferes with early brain-cell development.
Besides brain malformation, Zika is now being linked with foetal death, foetal growth restriction, placental insufficiency, and central nervous system lesions. In adults, there's a suspicion Zika can cause autoimmune reactions in the nervous system.
So far so good. But then the sceptics began to ask questions.
Blaming a virus for a health problem is a cop-out: it's God's fault.
In countries other than Brazil, Zika epidemics infecting 75% of the populations did not cause birth defects. There's something very different about the Zika in Brazil now and the Zika previously prevalent. Old Zika had the potential, it seems, to attack brain cells (as shown in the cell culture experiment), but New Zika can do it much better and does a lot more besides.
Because mosquitoes transmit other, serious, diseases, such as Dengue fever and malaria, the Brazilian government has had major programmes in place to reduce their numbers for some years. These have included decades of insecticidal chemical treatments, the most recent being the World Health Organisation recommended larvicide, 'pyriproxyfen', added to drinking water since mid-2014. This was boosted during 2012 by weekly releases of 540,000 Oxytech male GM mosquitoes whose GM offspring are programmed to die , after which the company claimed a 90% reduction in the mosquito population. All these would be expected have already reduced the Zika problem at the level of its vector.
Nevertheless, by 2015, the World Health Organisation reported Zika in Brazil, and only a few months had passed before the rise in microcephaly there was apparent. Mosquitoes can't fly more than 400 meters, and the virus is shed from the body within 3-14 days. Yet, the Brazilian Minister of Health suspects anything from 330,000-3,000,000 cases might have occurred during that year*. The new disease-causing Zika seems to have exploded out of nowhere.
* Because the immune-system reactions used in lab tests for Zika are so similar to those of Dengue virus which is endemic in the same areas, identification of a Zika infection after the event is very uncertain.
Indeed, the suddenness of the emergence of the malformations seems to indicate a precisely-timed man-made cause, rather than a natural biological spread of a new viral variant.
Although industry safety studies of pyriproxyfen haven't picked up reproductive, developmental or neurotoxic effects, Argentinean doctors have raised their concerns that the mass exposure of the population to pyriproxyfen in drinking water (where it could have become concentrated) is a much more likely culprit.
On the other hand, glyphosate-based herbicides used extensively on GM soya crops in Brazil have also been linked to birth defects and microcephaly.
Others have pointed out that the centre of origin of microcephaly is also the location of the mass-release of GM mosquitoes. These novel mosquitoes were transformed using mobile DNA elements which can jump into (and out of) genomes. Transgenic offspring are supposed to self-destruct, and the GM males released will quickly die out: but the technique is leaky and opportunities for Zika to be destabilised by mobile elements in its vector may be present.
A Zika-based conspiracy to promote population control through a 'voluntary' no-child policy throughout the South American countries has also been proposed.
Or, perhaps more likely, a Zika/mosquito cover story whipped out to conceal the government-backed damage inflicted through the use of a whole raft of toxic chemicals supplied by some of the most powerful corporations on the planet.
What is certain is that the pharmaceutical industry will make a packet producing anti-Zika vaccines, and that the chemical industry will make a packet producing insecticides to kill off the mosquitoes. Oxitech, which has not so far found much enthusiasm for its GM weapons of mass-insect-destruction, will find its products in hot demand (at a price) because even the World Health Organisation has now ordered more GM mosquito trials. And gene-drives  to wipe out all mosquitoes are certainly on the menu.
As reported by GM-free Scotland before, the effect of reducing the mosquito population to control Dengue fever seems to have made the problem worse , and seems curiously to be linked to the 'explosion' of Zika too.
From a biological point of view, the abrupt decline in the virus's vector population, plus the unnatural changes in physiology of the GM mosquitoes mating with the females which transmit the virus, plus physiological changes in mosquito vectors after sublethal exposure to pyriproxyfen, present an ideal scenario for a pathogen to 'save itself' by becoming more virulent.
Clinicians already know that reactions to a second infection by Dengue are worse than the first. Since Zika is very similar to Dengue, these two pathogens together could be acting synergistically on their common host.
And, of course, exposure to a cocktail of glyphosate, pyriproxyfen, Dengue and New Zika might realistically account for the wide variety of malformations and problems observed.
It's been pointed out that measures such as stimulating biodiversity to encourage mosquito predators, covering stagnant water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding, and putting fish into the water to eat mosquito larvae will all keep mozzie numbers down, keep viral transmission minimal and promote natural immunity in the human population without resorting to chemicals, vaccines, or GMOs.
 GM MOSQUITO TRICKS GET CLEVERER - September 2014
 GENE-DRIVEN INSECTS - April 2016
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