Unfortunately, the Zika virus isn’t going away anytime soon. And as I explained earlier this month, its origin and transmission is complicated. Experts around the globe are still trying to piece it all together. In the U.S., both the CDC and NIH are investigating the effects of the virus on a fetal development. And two brand-new studies strengthen the connection between the Zika virus infection and serious birth defects.
The first study — recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine — followed 88 pregnant mothers with symptomatic Zika infections. Using ultrasound testing, the researchers found 29 percent of the women with active Zika infections carried fetuses with “grave” abnormalities, including tiny brains and heads, shrunken placentas, nerve damage, and blindness. It also caused fetal death.
Because of the relatively small sample size in this study, it’s difficult to say exactly how big the problem will become in the overall population. But I fear the impact will grow larger than anyone at the CDC or NIH will admit, as I’ll explain in a moment.
Larger study suggests major impact of Zika
The second study — just published on March 4 in the journal Stem Cell — shows the Zika virus specifically targets neural cells that eventually go on to form the cortex of the infant brain. Researchers interpreted that finding to mean the brain problems may become even worse after the infant is born.
Doctors in Brazil previously stated the worst damage occurs in mothers infected during the first trimester. And researchers had not been expecting to find problems with infections occurring later in pregnancy. But in two cases in the new studies, infants died in the wombs of mothers infected later in pregnancy (at 25 and 32 weeks gestation). Plus, other infants in the study, whose mothers were infected relatively late in pregnancy, showed brain calcifications and stunted growth.
Some virologists compare Zika to rubella, also known as the German measles or three-day measles. (Rubella comes from the Latin rubor, or redness, for the characteristic red rash.)
The rubella virus causes relatively mild symptoms in adults, but damages or kills infants in the wombs of pregnant mothers who become infected. The researchers compare their new findings on Zika to the devastating 1964 rubella outbreak in the U.S.
In 1964, more than 80 percent of women in the U.S. had lifelong immunity to rubella because they had had German measles in childhood. Nevertheless, the outbreak killed at least 2,100 infants. And it caused severe disabilities — including blindness, deafness, and cognitive disabilities — in 200,000 infants.
But there’s one key difference in this comparison.
Today, almost no women in the Americas are immune to Zika. So there could be 10 times as many deaths and birth defects today — which would result in 21,000 deaths and 2 million deaths birth defects if the virus is left uncontrolled.
NIH promotes misinformation to quell concern
The NIH says not to worry because the mosquitos that spread Zika thrive in tropical regions. But that’s just outright misinformation. Experts have observed this type of mosquito throughout the southeastern U.S. And they can survive the winter as far north as Washington, D.C., where mosquito-born malaria once thrived until the 20th century. Plus, it also appears you can catch the virus through sexual contact. (So be careful how you scratch that itch.)
Meanwhile, the WHO is still waiting to weigh in with a larger study involving about 5,000 women primarily in Colombia. The results won’t be ready until June. But by that time, large numbers of pregnant women will already have brought babies to term — with potentially devastating results.
Plus, the new study didn’t answer one critical question…
What happens when a pregnant mother who gets a mild case of Zika — which doesn’t cause serious symptoms — doesn’t seek medical attention? Doctors say 80 percent of infected women don’t have symptoms, so the dimensions of the problem could grow exponentially larger as more women are exposed.
While the WHO is waiting, the summer mosquito season is rapidly approaching in the U.S.
Fortunately, you CAN protect yourself from mosquitos using some natural approaches and common sense. Read about all these approaches in the May 2016 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, become one today so you don’t miss this urgent report.
- “Two Studies Strengthen Links Between the Zika Virus and Serious Birth Defects,” New York Times (www.nytimes.com) 3/5/2016