More than 3,100 pregnant women in Colombia are infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Saturday. According to the report by Reuters, there are currently 25,645 infections in total; 3,177 are pregnant women, though there have been no reported cases yet of the rare birth defect microcephaly, which is linked to the Zika virus.
“We are projected to reach 600,000 cases before the epidemic reaches its ceiling,” he added, according to USA Today.
Microcephaly, or abnormal smallness of the skull at birth, prevents the brain from developing normally. As of now there is no vaccine or known effective treatment. In addition, President Santos mentioned there may be up to 1,000 cases, or an increase of 66 percent, of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare but very Zika-linked serious nerve condition that can cause paralysis. Colombian health officials stated that three people died from Guillain-Barre after contracting the Zika virus.
Over the past decade people have worried about SARS, West Nile Virus, Swine Flu, and most recently, Ebola. Zika is the latest global health crisis scare, declared a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” by the World Health Organization. The virus is currently believed to be spreading in 29 countries, mainly in Latin America.
The Zika virus is transmitted, like so many other deadly diseases, through the bite of a mosquito. Specifically, the Aedes aegypti, otherwise aptly known as the “yellow fever mosquito.” Brazilian scientists recently found active Zika virus in the urine and saliva of infected patients, raising global fears that the disease could also be transmitted via bodily fluids, though more studies are needed and they stressed it should be considered proof that people can become infected through contact with those fluids. It should also be noted that though the Zika virus and microcephaly are strongly suspected to be associated, no definitive scientific link yet exists.
Brazil itself has confirmed 404 cases of microcephaly. Nearly 5,000 cases of the virus were also reported in Norte de Santander province of Colombia alone, more than any other country. In this emergency context, pregnant Zika-positive women in Colombia are gaining access to usually restricted abortion services. Santos said authorities in Colombia are working to control the population of mosquitoes via fumigation and elimination of stagnant water in order to curb the spread of the virus.
In a provocatively titled piece published on Slate, Daniel Engber makes a compelling argument that it might be time to wipe mosquitoes off the face of the earth once and for all.
“Consider the statistics: Mosquito-borne diseases kill hundreds of thousands of people every year. Malaria alone claims the lives of 6 million people per decade, mostly small children. The economic costs are similarly staggering, likely in the tens of billions of dollars every year. When researchers totaled up the losses caused by a single mosquito-related illness (dengue fever) in a single mosquito-ridden country (Brazil), it came out to $1.35 billion annually, not including the $1 billion that must be spent to control the spread of dengue-infected flies.”
Mosquitoes are, after all, the most dangerous animal on the planet. According to the Smithsonian, the flying spreaders of pestilence kill more humans each year than just about anything else, including other humans.
“No other species, including our own, is responsible for the loss of as many human lives each year as mosquitoes are, Gates continues. Humans murder around 475,000 other people each year. Snakes kill around 50,000, while dogs (mainly from rabies transmission) claim another 25,000 lives. Some of the most feared animals (sharks, wolves) kill fewer than 10. The diseases that mosquitos carry and transmit to people they bite, on the other hand, kill 725,000.”
With the news that there may be as many as 80,000 and 100,000 current Zika infections in Colombia and an unknown number in other neighboring countries, maybe Daniel is onto something.
[Photo by Tom Ervin/Getty Images]