The more science that emerges about Zika, the worse it sounds for average Americans. In fact, the researchers just released a new, alarming report about how the virus can permanently damage adult brains. And it may spread in more ways than CDC experts realize…or are willing to admit.
Without a doubt, the warning about Zika is not getting out as it should.
By contrast, back in 1987-88, a public health information mailing on HIV/AIDS went out to every single household in the nation. Although the at-risk populations had nothing to do with the vast majority of households in the nation, and prevention was clear and obvious, every American received a treatise on sexual transmission of AIDS and graphic illustrations of “safe sex” and “safe” intravenous drug abuse.
The CDC’s efforts to educate the public about Zika don’t come close to its efforts with HIV/AIDS. For example, last month, the sister of one our editors at Insiders’ Cures went on a Caribbean cruise. The captain diverted the ship to Puerto Rico from its planned course due to Hurricane Hermine.
Passengers got off at the Puerto Rican port with no warning that the island is now the new Zika hotspot. Crewmembers made some vague recommendations on the ship to wear bug spray at some point. But they made NO mention of Zika.
Our staffer’s sister only realized the danger once she got home and saw a news story. (And yes, she had read my earlier warning, but it had focused on South America. So Zika was not top-of-mind.)
It makes me wonder how many people travel to Zika zones and don’t realize it. And it’s a reminder to me to do my part and to keep up awareness of Zika, especially in light of the alarming new research.
Zika isn’t just a worry for pregnant women and their unborn children
Previous evidence linked the Zika virus to a neurological disorder in adults called Guillain Barré syndrome, which can lead to paralysis and even death. Plus, new lab studies in mice suggest the virus may also permanently harm adult brain cells.
In the developing baby, the brain primarily consists of neural stem cells, which are precursors to brain tissues. These neural stem cells are susceptible to the Zika virus, which hinders their development and disrupts brain growth.
Up until this point, experts believed that Zika could not harm developed, mature brain cells in adults.
However, adult brains still contain some stem cells, which replenish mature brain cells over a lifetime. These stem cells in adults are vital for new learning and memory as adults. (They also provide proof that your Driver’s Ed teacher was wrong about alcohol permanently killing off your brain cells.)
The new research shows that in mice, at a particular point in time, Zika also damages these adult brain stem cells. Therefore, infected adults may experience more brain cell death and reduced replacement with new brain cells, leading to cognitive declines and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and depression. Experts have been slow to note the connection. Perhaps because the long-term cognitive effects are subtle in adults. At least, the effects appear to be subtle as of right now. Who knows what further research — and time — will uncover?
Experts offer few concrete answers
Zika has already affected hundreds of thousands of people, with the number growing daily. It has spread to the U.S. and more than 60 other countries over the past year. Most infected adults don’t realize they have been infected, as the immediate, acute symptoms resemble a short cold or flu.
The CDC did issue a travel warning for Miami, Florida. But what about the rest of the country? Who’s warning them, as they did about AIDS, which was far less threatening to the general population?
The first Zika-related death in an adult in the continental U.S. actually happened in Utah. A family member of the deceased also contracted the disease. But this family member did not contract it through sexual relations or a mosquito bite.
Does this mean that Zika spreads in ways beyond mosquito bites and sex — like kissing and hugging?
As of now, public health experts say it’s unlikely. But admit they can’t explain how the person in Utah with no risk factors got the virus. I fear we will hear about more and more unexplainable cases. We absolutely need clinical studies in children and adults in addition to the studies in pregnant women.
What can you do?
Thankfully, the end of the mosquito season in most parts of the U.S. is rapidly approaching. So we will have several months of respite.
But in the meantime, in these last few weeks before the first frost kills off the last of the mosquitoes, you can refer back to my articles in the May and June issues of Insiders’ Cures, where I discussed all the natural ways to prevent mosquito bites, including new research on catnip. And you can also search the archives for ways to boost your immune system against any virus or flu.
Subscribers can access all of this important information for free by logging on to www.drmicozzi.com with your username and password. And if you’re not already a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.
“Zika Virus Infects Neural Progenitors in the Adult Mouse Brain and Alters Proliferation,” Cell Stem Cell (www.sciencedirect.com) 8/18/2016