That name and its association with a virus were a relative unknown just before the 2016 New Year. Today, Zika virus has been on the lips of most everyone sometime this week.
Some people may remember the fear that Rubella once carried with pregnant women until a vaccine was developed to rid society of miscarriages and stillbirths. There was also Congenital Rubella Syndrome, which inflicted as many as 20,000 unvaccinated mothers’ babies with blindness and deafness as well as brain and heart damage (Wolfson, 2016).
Monday, 1 February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) will have met to convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus to determine if current conditions warrant “a Public Health Emergency of International Concern ” (WHO to convene, 2016). The Director-General of the WHO decided to increase global attention to Zika virus partly in response to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel alerts and declarations that the virus had become a globally distributed concern in a matter of days (Zika Virus Travel Alert, 2016). The other part, Director-General Margaret Chan considered was due to factors that make for a “perfect storm.”
In short, transmission is dependent on just two things: direct contact with the Aedes aegypti mosquito and indirect contact with a person who has been infected with Zika virus.
The CDC and the news media, like NBC’s “What is The Zika Virus?” (Fox, 2016) and NPR’s “Big Zika Virus Outbreak Unlikely In The U.S., Officials Say” (Stein, 2016) have discounted most concern for the virus by reminding people that they are enjoying wintertime conditions when the Aedes aegypti mosquito is dormant.
After all, Dengue Virus, which has a similar mode of transmission, does not seem to inflict the people of North America with the same intensity as Caribbean and Central and South American regions. Thus, transmission is not of any concern.
And, after two week’s clearance returning from a Caribbean or South American vacation without symptoms, all should be well.
Does this allay all your fears? Should it?
Ours is a society that prefers to make informed decisions based on available and unmodified fact. So, this review will avoid the use of any “conspiracy theory” jargon to feed fear or political innuendo to soothe a false sense of security. With that in mind, let’s investigate Zika further.
First, a quick review of Zika and the virus is in order.
Zika is one of two, not one virus types. The original virus was named after the Zika forest in Uganda where the first monkey was discovered to carry the virus (WHO Director-General, 2016). That was 1947.
Zika virus was, until 2007, just a monkey virus. In the forests of Africa. 2007 marked the time when Zika left Africa and entered one island of Micronesia in the Pacific Islands area. Over the course of 2013 to 2014, four more islands had Zika virus (WHO Director-General, 2016). And, there were neurological problems (complicated by coexisting Dengue virus), which may or may not have been the paralysis known as the Guillain-Barré syndrome.
The variant that has started in the Western Hemisphere is a different Zika “flavivirus” (Zika Virus Travel Alert, 2016). At the time of this post 23 countries and territories have already reported cases since late 2015 (WHO Director-General, 2016).
There have been rates of microcephaly (small brain size at birth) that are ten times normal in Brazil and a pronounced increase in cases of the Guillain-Barré syndrome. Still, there remains NO established, causal or biological relationship between Zika virus infection and birth malformations and neurological syndromes.
The medical community is using an epidemiological construct to isolate the direct cause, but as of yet the official link is: “strongly suspected” after two autopsies of Brazilian babies who had microcephaly (WHO Director-General, 2016; WHO to convene, 2016; Zika Virus Travel Alert, 2016).
Why is the WHO concerned? Why is the North America news media focused on quieting this topic?
The answer to the first is four things: First, there is an absence of acquired immunity in any of the affected areas of the Western Hemisphere. Second, there exist NO vaccines to combat this sudden epidemic. Third, there are no treatments that respond to the Zika virus. Fourth, there are no rapid diagnostic tests available to confirm Zika virus; all samples must be confirmed currently at the CDC.
The answer to the second (why the news media seems to be quieting this topic under a winter blanket of calm) may be politically motivated by an impending presidential election that requires more attention. Additionally, it could be that the efforts of the CDC to calm and soothe demonstrate sound epidemiological wisdom using only the evidence available at this moment (Zika Virus Travel Alert, 2016).
Meanwhile, the WHO will seek to activate global priority to develop “vaccines and new tools to control mosquito populations, as well as improving diagnostic tests” (WHO to convene, 2016). Let’s see why the WHO is so interested in making this “a Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (WHO to convene, 2016). After all, the WHO has the option to permit this virus outbreak to become part of the background noise with Dengue virus.
First, the WHO is not limited by epidemiological principle that uses only the evidence presented. Instead, the WHO is forecasting.
WHO recognizes that North American winter season does not last all year long. The WHO Director-General sites “conditions associated with this year’s El Nino weather pattern are expected to increase mosquito populations greatly in many areas.”
Zika virus can freely transfer from an infected person to nearby individuals once warm season returns and the Aedes aegypti mosquito is no longer dormant. Aedes includes the entire Aedes genus such as Aedes albopictus.
One news media resource has already identified this trend and discounted the CDC theory that “everyone in North America lives in air conditioning” (Sun & Dennis, 2016). It should be noted that the conclusion of the article retains the central theme in all U.S. news sources that North America is “unlikely” to see widespread local outbreaks.
Second, the two-week clearance after return from a Caribbean or South American vacation is not considered “safe.” It has been reported by the CDC the mild symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes or conjunctivitis are typically associated with only one in five who test positive for Zika virus (Zika Virus Travel Alert, 2016).
Still, Zika virus can be transmitted sexually, and not just from the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. According to Dr. Schuchat of the CDC, live Zika virus has been found in semen after two weeks (Zika Virus Travel Alert, 2016).
What about the solutions?
Suerie Moon of Harvard University’s Kennedy School has stated in a The New York Times “Room for Debate” that the WHO must assume leadership of the Zika virus matter (Moon, 2016). Peter Hotez of the National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine emphasized at the same debate that mosquitoes must be eradicated until such a time as a vaccine becomes available (Hotez, 2016). And, Amy Vittor of University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute implicated urban poverty as “facilitating the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses” (Vittor, 2016).
So, what is the WHO doing or trying to do as it develops “vaccines and new tools to control mosquito populations, as well as improving diagnostic tests” (WHO to convene, 2016)?
For its part, the CDC has stated that vaccines will be at least a few more years or more away. The CDC plans to use existing grant money for the “flavivirus class” that includes Zika to launch two experiments. One is a vaccine designed similar to a West Nile virus DNA structured because it is considered “safe and immunogenic” (Zika Virus Travel Alert, 2016). The second is a live vaccine that is structured similarly to the Dengue virus.
Vaccines are going to be useless resources for several years. That leaves tools to control mosquito populations and improving diagnostic tests.
The WHO has been working with Oxitec, from the UK, which has genetically altered the Aedes aegypti mosquito. These wild male mosquitoes mate with local female Aedes aegypti mosquitos, and their offspring become larvae that never mature into mosquitos. In field tested areas of Brazil, Oxitec has reduced the Aedes aegypti mosquito population 90 percent (Allen, 2016).
So far improvements for rapid diagnostic testing have not been announced. The CDC, in the interim, has mandated that each U.S. state report all Zika virus cases (Muir, 2016; Pelley, 2016). Reporting was before voluntary.
Now, given the WHO concerns and known solutions, what is the bright side to this story?
Prevention of mosquito bites and infected semen is one thing. There are barrier protections available for these. And, on the grander scale, there are fancy, genetically altered males to reduce the mosquito population.
But, there’s not going to be a vaccine for several years. And, the progression of infection has advanced rapidly with over 4 million expected to have the Zika virus by the end of 2016 (Pelley, 2016). That means there will be no acquired immunity in any of these communities.
Is this a bright side to the story?
Yes! (Well, maybe…)
You can bolster your existing immune system to combat the effects of viruses like Zika before they hit. You do that all the time by eating and exercising correctly. Or at least, you should!
But, more recently, clinical researchers have taken the mammalian mother’s colostrum, that special milk available only during the first three days after birth, and extracted its active ingredients for certain immune deficiency and hyperactive disorders. The “research” on Transfer Factors has been in the literature for almost 60 years, but most of it is protected from peer-review by proprietary privilege.
The sole-proprietor of Transfer Factors paid to get its product listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) for non-prescription drugs, which has been an advertising inducement to both conventional and alternative medicine physicians around the world in over 53 countries.
Unfortunately, it is only a nutraceutical, which means that it is, for all intents and purposes, a placebo. A placebo (sugar pill) has beneficial success, statistically, over 40 percent of the time because of the hope that it will work. Thus, it stands to reason that claims of monumental success by one-third of the users would amount to a treatment failure in the real medical and statistical professions. And, yet, the organization, 4Life Research prints in its “Guide to Supplements and Good Health” recommendations to use its product in massive amounts for anything from eczema to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to various forms of cancer.
Is Transfer Factors the bright side of the story for Zika Virus? Probably not. Preventive measures are your best protection. The soon release of the early trials of the Dengue Virus Vaccine (with the Zika Virus Vaccine, included) is most likely going to be the true bright side to the story.
Allen, G. (2016). Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Join The Fight To Stop Zika Virus. Goats and Soda. National Public Radio, 29 January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/01/26/464464459/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-join-the-fight-to-stop-zika-virus
Fox, M. (2016). “What Is the Zika Virus? Your Questions Answered.” NBC News. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/zika-virus-outbreak/what-zika-virus-your-questions-answered-n506126?cid=eml_nmn_20160129
Hotez, P. (2016). A Campaign to Eliminate Mosquitoes Is Needed Until a Vaccine Is Developed. The Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, 29 January 2016. The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/01/29/how-to-stop-the-spread-of-zika/a-campaign-to-eliminate-mosquitoes-is-needed-until-a-vaccine-is-developed
Moon, S. (2016). The World Health Organization Needs to Be in Charge of Zika. The Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, 29 January 2016. The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/01/29/how-to-stop-the-spread-of-zika/the-world-health-organization-needs-to-be-in-charge-of-zika
Muir. (2016). ABC World News, story 5, 2:50, January 28, 2016.
Pelley. (2016). CBS Evening News, lead story, 2:35, January 28, 2016.
Stein, R. (2016). Big Zika Virus Outbreak Unlikely In The U.S., Officials Say. Shots: Health News from the NPR. National Public Radio, 29 January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/26/464459350/big-zika-virus-outbreak-unlikely-in-the-u-s-officials-say
Sun, L. & Dennis, B. (2016). Why the United States is so vulnerable to the alarming spread of Zika virus. Health & Science, 28 January 2016. The Washington Post. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/why-the-united-states-is-vulnerable-to-spread-of-zika-virus/2016/01/26/a8c6a9b4-c440-11e5-8965-0607e0e265ce_story.html?tid=a_inl
Vittor, A. (2016). To Tackle the Zika Virus, Alleviate Urban Poverty. The Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, 29 January 2016. The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/01/29/how-to-stop-the-spread-of-zika/to-tackle-the-zika-virus-alleviate-urban-poverty
WHO Director-General briefs Executive Board on Zika situation. (2016). Briefing to the Executive Board on the Zika situation, Geneva, Switzerland, 28 January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2016/zika-situation/en/
WHO to convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus and observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations. (2016). WHO statement, 28 January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2016/emergency-committee-zika/en/
Wolfson, W. (2016). Before Zika Virus, Rubella Was A Pregnant Woman’s Nightmare. Shots: Health News from NPR. National Public Radio, 30 January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/30/464899067/before-zika-virus-rubella-was-a-pregnant-womans-nightmare
Zika Virus Travel Alert. (2016). Transcript for CDC Telebriefing: Zika Virus Travel Alert, Thursday, January 28, 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/t0128-zika-virus-101.html