A prominent scientist is asserting that it’s too soon to know whether the recent explosion in microcephaly cases is truly the result of the Zika virus. Leslie Lobel is chair of the virology department at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. He has studied Zika for years—primarily in Uganda, where symptoms have always manifested as relatively mild, especially compared to other mosquito-borne illnesses. He told the Guardian UK that the hysteria associated with this outbreak could lead to "massive social unrest, which can cause more damage than the virus itself.” Still, he urges pregnant women to exercise extreme caution when traveling to affected areas, since there’s no way to prove the uptick in birth defects is *not* due to Zika. 

One highly controversial theory (not Lobel’s) blames the microcephaly outbreak on a toxic larvicide that was recently introduced into Brazil’s water supply. According to an advocacy group called Physicians in Crop-Sprayed Towns (PCST), in 2014, the Brazilian government injected a chemical called Pyriproxyfen into the drinking water supply in order to stop mosquitoes from breeding in tanks. It’s manufactured by a subsidiary of agribusiness giant Monsanto, which is notorious among environmental advocates for suppressing information about its products.

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In the wake of these accusations, one Brazilian state has suspended the use of pyriproxyfen. But Fortune magazine says that Monsanto has been the victim of a smear campaign, noting that Monsanto doesn’t even manufacture larvicides, and the group who proposed the connection offered no lab tests or epidemiological studies to strengthen their argument.

What are we to take from all this? Sadly, there’s no conclusive explanation for what’s happening in Brazil. For now, the best thing is for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive is to stay away from Zika-affected areas—and maybe larvicide-treated water supplies as well. 

 

Sources:

  1. The Guardian: Zika hysteria is way ahead of research into virus, says expert
  2. RED UAS: REPORT from Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Villages regarding Dengue-Zika, microcephaly, and mass-spraying with chemical poisons
  3. The Telegraph: Zika virus: Brazil dismisses link between larvicide and microcephaly
  4. Fortune: How Monsanto Got Stung By a Zika Virus Conspiracy Theory