the largest Zika epidemic researchers have ever seen
January 14, 2016 6:34 PM   Subscribe

"This is quite a large epidemic, so another question is how did this get so big so fast? And no one has the answer," said Hotez. "There's nothing really published, most of what we’re going on are World Health Organization alerts." First case of tropical zika virus linked to serious birth defect found in Texas (Jessica Glenza, The Guardian); What You Need To Know About the Zika Virus (Alexandra Ossola, Popular Science); CDC home page for resources and information; FAQ from Pan American Health Organization
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (24 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
So I read this mailing list about infectious diseases out of curiosity. There is a LOT of traffic, and so there is a whole class of posts which I ignore because, like, It Can't Happen Here.

And a whole bunch of them --zika, dengue fever, chikungunya -- are mentioned in the "What You Need to Know…" link. FTFA:
Researchers are still not certain how Zika is triggering the increased incidence of microcephaly. But the connection is causing panic—so much so that the Brazilian government recently told women in the country's northeast, where the epidemic has hit hardest, not to get pregnant for fear of these birth defects.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:31 PM on January 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

posted by samthemander at 9:46 PM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, they had a report on NPR about this. Really horrible.
posted by GuyZero at 9:48 PM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wish I hadn't looked up the birth defect description on Wikipedia. This is such scary news.
posted by JenMarie at 10:13 PM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Children of Men.

Great. Juuuust great. I was so damn sure I'd die before any of the really horrible things started to happen.
posted by aramaic at 6:07 AM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

After some quick reading it seems that 80% of people who are infected by this virus are able to deal with it without showing any symptoms. So probabaly not a children of men scenario.
posted by humanfont at 6:58 AM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a mom of an infant, I find this extraordinarily terrifying. And it's another reminder that I just can't read the news right now. Nope, can't handle it... Turn the Parks and Rec episodes back on.
posted by areaperson at 7:11 AM on January 15, 2016

After some quick reading it seems that 80% of people who are infected by this virus are able to deal with it without showing any symptoms.

The point of Children of Men isn't that everybody dies, it's that it becomes impossible to have children. Are 80% of babies born to women who contract Zika during their pregnancy ok? Because note that those pregnant women who are having babies with tiny brains are counted among the "no symptom" people.

So now that we know it's actually a dangerous thing and not a virus that just passes, someone is working their ass off on a vaccine, right?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:26 AM on January 15, 2016

Mosquito control isn't just because some of us are wimps whining about being bitten and hate having them buzzing around our ears. It's a serious public health issue.
posted by elizilla at 7:28 AM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, what about those genetically engineered mosquitos someone was working on. I think there was one kind that was basically sterile (but would somehow spread and thus end up with all the mosquitos being sterile? I don't remember how it worked) and another kind that was malaria resistant. I thought the sterile ones were already being released in Brazil. That seems like a fix. And now that they know how to make them malaria resistent, will that make it easier to create Zika-resistant mosquitos?

Here's an article about the sterile ones. Am I crazy or is this "problem solved" if we just do it already.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:31 AM on January 15, 2016

I'm no expert but I think eradicating a species can have far-reaching and potentially unintended consequences.
posted by JenMarie at 7:42 AM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, that's what I thought, too, when I first encountered it. I think it was actually on the Blue. But there were articles dealing with that issue and apparently mosquitos, despite being numerous, aren't that important. Like there was nothing that eats mosquitos that doesn't actually eat lots of stuff and nothing that mosquitos eat that would result in a population boom of something else (presumably because they suck blood instead of kiling what they eat), and nothing that they do (like pollinate) that wasn't primarily done by other insects anyway.

I remember being skeptical, but it did seem like the people who knew about such things really did think that mosquitors aren't some crucial ecological link.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:54 AM on January 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I remember that too and it still feels wrong, even if it isn't...eliminating mosquitos entirely would be a lot of biomass suddenly missing from the enviroent. But man, those stinkers carry a lot of disease and suffering around so I get the attraction in that idea.
posted by agregoli at 8:38 AM on January 15, 2016

There were over 2.3 million babies born in Brazil in 2015. There were a few thousand cases of this defect which may be linked to this virus. Alarming, tragic for those affected but not world ending.
This is like Ebola all over again. Don't fall into a panic because some of some page view seeking media attention.
posted by humanfont at 8:59 AM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

No panic seems to be displayed here...concern though, seems entirely appropriate, particularly for women anticipating a pregnancy. The fact that you could have this and not know it is pretty scary.
posted by agregoli at 9:06 AM on January 15, 2016

I suspect eliminating mosquitos would be a pretty bad idea in any ecosystem. For example, mosquitos are a major ecological factor in the Arctic. I've heard that Caribou put on more weight in the mosquito-free winter than in the snow-free summer, so eliminating mosquitos might cause over grazing, then desertification, then collapse of the grazing animal populations.

The Times article on Zika said a vaccine was being worked on.
posted by monotreme at 10:20 AM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes and no. It's true that microcephaly has not yet been definitively linked to the Zika virus, and it's true that it doesn't seem like THAT many absolute cases of microcephaly.

The problem is that microcephaly (though of course it comes on a spectrum) is a terrible birth defect. My mom (retired radiologist) commented when she read the Zika articles that it's one of the worst non-fatal birth defects you can have, in terms of the general degree of impairment and lifelong support requirements.

And I just looked up the incidence, and found that in northeast Brazil it's currently sitting at 3%. (In northeast Brazil, particularly the state of Pernambuco, the incidence of Zika-related birth defects has risen to 300 affected fetuses for every 10,000 births.) Let me tell you, if you're considering getting pregnant, THAT IS A VERY HIGH RATE.

So - yes - we don't have the whole story, and it's possible that the story could change dramatically, but this is most definitely a tier above "bullshit clickbait". This incidence of microcephaly is a very big and very serious change.
posted by telepanda at 10:31 AM on January 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

The link to microcephaly becomes much scarier once one realizes that, like dengue fever, zika is unlikely to go away. Dengue is already a huge issue in Brazil, with over a million people getting infected every year, and adding zika (and chikungunya) to the mix is already bad enough. Now imagine thousands of babies born with microcephaly every year and you naturally have people panicking.
posted by maskd at 4:30 AM on January 16, 2016

Good news Hawaii!

Hawaii seems a particularly bad place to get this kind of infection. I assume mosquitoes there could be an issue all year 'round, as opposed to Canada where they'll die off in winter.
posted by Mezentian at 8:05 PM on January 16, 2016

The Aedes mosquito is the one responsible for transmitting this virus and dengue fever. It doesn't live in Canada because it needs warmer climates. Global warming has extended its range northward in recent years, but not that far yet.
posted by humanfont at 4:39 AM on January 19, 2016

Washington Post article
posted by zyxwvut at 8:11 AM on January 23, 2016

Rapid spread of Zika virus in the Americas raises alarm (w/map) - "A new global map highlights places Zika could spread, seasonally (yellow) or year-round (orange). Researchers made the map after analyzing places where Zika-carrying mosquitoes can thrive as well as the volume and destination of travelers flying out of Brazil, the epicenter of the virus outbreak."
posted by kliuless at 8:53 AM on January 23, 2016

Brazil is now expanding testing of a gene drive with gmo mosquitos
posted by humanfont at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2016

Dr Peter Hotez in The Guardian, January 29th:
“I’m quite convinced it’s going to be all over the Caribbean within the next few weeks. And then, where’s next?” he said. “Where we’re standing here in the Gulf Coast … Pretty much all of the Gulf Coast cities are vulnerable but Houston is the largest.”
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:25 PM on January 29, 2016

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