How Zika Virus Spreads: Can The WHO Stop It?

How Zika virus spreads explosively through Southern and Central America amounts to a failure to control mosquitoes in Africa as well as South America. Mosquitoes are the only significant vector of Zika. The World Health Organization (WHO) knows mosquitoes must be eliminated, but can they do it? Since the Zika outbreak, there are discussions of many solutions from mosquito nets, to the release of GMO genetically enhanced mosquitoes. The genetically altered mosquitoes produce non-viable offspring, thus when healthy mosquitoes mate with them, the babies will die. According to the New York Times, it is estimated that mosquito populations would be decreased by 80 percent, but is that enough? Mosquito repellents are also being used in South American countries and protective clothing is being recommended. Would some combination of these preventive measures be enough to eradicate Zika?

Understanding how Zika virus is spreading so rapidly, and causes such devastating birth defects as microcephaly, extreme measures seem to be called for. We have an effective preventative. Science has had a solution to the malaria epidemic for over 7 decades. It is called DDT. The same banned solution could have prevented the Zika outbreak, and saved millions of deaths from Malaria world wide, but will governments allow its use? An Economics 21 report states it quite simply.

“Zika is in the news, but it is dwarfed by malaria. About 300 million to 600 million people suffer each year from malaria, and it kills about 1 million annually, 90 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. We have the means to reduce Zika and malaria—and we are not using it.”

Discover The Earth reports on the effectiveness of DDT in malaria eradication before the ban. Could the Zika virus be controlled in a similar way?

“In Sri Lanka, DDT spraying was initiated in 1946, at which time approximately 3 million new cases of malaria were being diagnosed each year. By 1956, that figure had fallen to 7,300; eight years after that, in 1964, a mere 29 Sri Lankans contracted malaria.”

Considering how Zika virus spreads almost exclusively through mosquito bites, it seems justified to use DDT, which has always been the most effective means of killing mosquitoes. Will they use DDT to fight Zika? As Economics 21 reports, so far, the effective answer has been no for most countries. The Stockholm Convention allows the use of DDT for emergency outbreaks of malaria, but in practice, it is often withheld in favor of other methods. Though science has produced a variety of answers to the mosquito problem, mosquitoes are still out of control in tropical countries.

How Zika Virus Spread, Slowly And Silently, Through Africa Since 1951

Zika was discovered in 1947, while still contained in a single forest in Uganda, According to Wikipedia. It was named in 1952 after the Zika forest, where it originated. Zika was relatively harmless in its place of origin. Mosquitoes in the area seemed to prefer monkeys, who suffered no noticeable long term effects from the virus. The disease has remained dormant, and without spreading to humans until 1951, when a few cases were reported. It was still considered a relatively mild disease, similar to Dengue fever, but much less severe. Concern over the virus was minimal, as it spread silently through Africa and Southeast Asia.

How Zika virus spread so suddenly, after a mutated strain of the virus hit French Polynesia in 2013, was at first perplexing to scientists. It seems that a mutation occurred, making the virus more likely to infect humans, and to cause greater damage, and now especially to the unborn. It is a derivative of this strain that somehow crossed the ocean to the Americas. Since then, the Zika epidemic has been catastrophic in its effect to unborn babies. The mutated strain of Zika causes a previously rare birth defect called microcephaly, a disorder that causes the child’s head and brain to be much smaller than normal.

How Zika Virus Spread Through Central And South America

Due to the unhampered population of mosquitoes throughout the world, especially in warm tropical climates, the disease spread rampantly. Throughout Central and South America, pregnant woman and their unborn babies are at risk. If not stopped, the disease could impact most of the world eventually, at least the mosquito prone parts of the world.

Zika Virus shutterstock_ [Image via farland80/ShutterStock]

Because of how Zeka virus spreads, through mosquitoes, just like malaria, we have to consider what DDT would do to other wildlife, compared to other insecticides, when looking for solutions. Probably the greatest concern to ecologists now is the mysterious disappearance of the honey bee. Take Part provides a small preview of a cutting edge report by an international team of scientists, to be released soon.

“In the case of acute effects alone, some neonics are at least 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT,” wrote the scientists affiliated with the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. “The evidence is also clear that neonics pose a serious risk of harm to honey bees and other pollinators.”

Will DDT be used in South America? Declaring a state of emergency is a step in the right direction, and will lead to serious consideration of extreme alternatives including DDT. The release of genetically modified mosquitoes is already occurring. Will it be enough?

The Zika virus spread to South America would never have happened, if mosquitoes had been controlled in Africa.

While a mosquito net protects this child while he sleeps it is hardly a fool proof solution. (image via Milkovasa/ShutterStock) While a mosquito net protects this child while he sleeps it is hardly a foolproof solution. [Image via Milkovasa/Shutterstock][Image via Marcus Hildebrand/Shutterstock]