Zika Virus: Capitalist Press Spreads Inaccurate, Fear-Mongering Unscientific Information [UPDATED 17 Apr 2016]

Countries with reported cases of Zika virus as of December 2015.

Countries with reported cases of Zika virus as of 4 December 2015.  Source: ECDC, “Rapid Risk Assessment: Zika virus epidemic in the Americas: potential association with microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome -10 December 2015”

[UPDATE (17 April, 2016): The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have now BOTH announced that they believe that the latest scientific evidence DOES IMPLY THAT A CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ZIKA VIRUS INFECTION AND BIRTH DEFECTS EXISTS.  We agree with this statement made by World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan: “Though the association [between Zika virus infection and birth defects] is not yet scientifically proven, [researchers have] concluded that there is now scientific consensus that Zika virus is implicated in these neurological disorders. The kind of urgent action called for by this public health emergency should not wait for definitive proof.” We plan to write a new article incorporating this latest information; in the meantime you can review the latest announcements here:

World Health Organization (WHO): (22 March 2016)  http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2016/zika-update-3-16/en/

WHO:  Zika Virus – Questions and Answers  http://www.who.int/features/qa/zika/en/

CDC:  (April 13, 2016)  http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/t0414-zika-update.html

New England Journal of Medicine:  (April 13, 2016)  http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMsr1604338

—IWPCHI]

[Author’s note: this article, though slightly revised today, Mar 15th was originally written on 3 February 2015.  In a fit of uncharacteristic timidity we hesitated in publishing it due to the rather broad declarations made by the author, who is not a medical professional.  Having seen very little to date in the scientific literature that contradicts the gist of the author’s arguments we have decided to “let this bird fly”. We have appended links to latest peer-reviewed preliminary studies on Zika virus released this past week by the New England Journal of Medicine.  – IWPCHI]

As usual, the bourgeois press are eagerly trumpeting the latest health scare news in order to increase their profits, with little or no regard for the accuracy of their statements about the disease or the impact their horror stories will have on the public.

We were doubtful about the first scare stories we heard late last year (2015) as they were big on spreading fear and contained little useful information – as usual. It seems that it is beyond the ability of the capitalist press to report any science story without gross distortion of the facts or, in the case of “emerging diseases”, scare-mongering. But after all, the purpose of the capitalist press is not to educate but to make money. And so we are being bombarded by a flood of absurd and inaccurate fear-inducing articles about Zika virus and its possible effects.  We hope that this article will shed some light on the subject.

Our research into this topic took us to the websites of the New York Times, the Guardian (UK), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as a number of scientific papers on the subject. The links you’ll find throughout the article will take you to many of the sources we used to compile this review of the current status of the Zika virus epidemic.

No scientific evidence exists at this time proving a link between Zika virus and microcephaly

We are happy to report that our investigation of the Zika virus reveals little that should terrify anyone. A Zika virus infection almost never leads to death; in Brazil, where somewhere between 440,000 and 1,300,000 cases of Zika virus infection are belived to have occurred in 2015, fewer than a dozen people had died as of 30 November 2015.  [Source: ECDC – Zika virus epidemic in the Americas 10 December 2015 (see pages 3 and 8)]  Only an estimated 1 in 5 people who are exposed to the virus will even develop any noticeable symptoms! The Zika infection itself usually causes either no symptoms at all or mild illness (such as fever, rash and sometimes vomiting) and is over without any lasting complications usually in less than 2 weeks after onset of symptoms. In other words: Ebola it ain’t!

The loudly and irresponsibly spread stories comparing Zika virus to AIDS and linking Zika virus infections in Brazil to birth defects including microcephaly are – so far as we can determine at this time – utterly without foundation.

A note about how science suffers in the hands of the capitalists

All of these organizations are products of capitalist society and bourgeois science. They exhibit all the weaknesses inherent in all governmental and corporate endeavors in the “for-profit” capitalist world. The governmental and quasi-governmental scientific organizations of the capitalists are forced to justify their existence and the expenditures made in their support to a capitalist ruling class that would much prefer to keep the money in their own pockets rather than spend it on scientific inquiry. In order to keep the government channeling money into their bureaucracies, even “scientists” running organizations like the World Health Organization must remind the world from time to time just how important it is to keep the funding flowing in their direction. Epidemics like Ebola and Zika virus can be expected to be exploited for this purpose by national and international health organizations as well as by the for-profit news media. This is why we often see the supposedly “impartial” scientific bodies of the capitalist world exaggerating or understating the dangers of emerging diseases – depending on which way the political winds are blowing in the capitalist nation-states in which these scientific organizations are based.

The World Health Organization was severely criticised for its slow response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa. That is a major reason why we think they may be “bending the stick too far” in the opposite direction, overreacting to an alleged microcephaly “epidemic” which is in fact merely coincident to the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil. As with everything else, greed-based capitalism poisons scientific inquiry and the news media reportage on scientific topics. The scientific truth is buried under political and economic imperatives of a profit-mongering ruling class that places its own petty self-interest above all else. Political appointees to important governmental posts responsible for the health of millions or even billions of people have proven over and over again to have placed their careers ahead of the public welfare. We’ve seen this with the AIDS epidemic, the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, the Ebola outbreak, the Flint, Michigan (USA) water scandal, the “debate” over global warming and now once again with the Zika virus.

Added to this weakness inherent in bourgeois press reportage on scientific subjects in general and the motivations behind the sensationalist claims made by national and international medical organizations we must add the current hatred of the United States Government and its proxies for the government of Brazil, which is partner to a new economic union of the nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (known collectively as the “BRICS” nations) which represent a serious threat to the current domination of the world’s economy by the United States.  Elements of the Zika virus hysteria appear to be motivated by the US desire to do anything it can do to weaken the government of Brazil economically (Brazil of course being the “B” in “BRICS”).  By exaggerating the impact of Zika virus the US hopes to reduce tourism to Brazil, in particular during the upcoming Olympic Games to be held there this year, thereby putting severe economic pressure on the increasingly unstable current left-reformist capitalist government of Dilma Rousseff of the corruption plagued and grossly misnamed “Partido dos Trabalhadores” (“PT”: in English: “Workers Party”).  This campaign by the US and European press is already bearing its malignant effects; sales of tickets to this summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro are reportedly going very poorly, and tourism is generally down as well.

The longer the working class allows the capitalist greedheads to run the world, with each passing day the more serious become the environmental and economic problems we all have to face. It is just a matter of time before these idiots destroy the planet through a combination of wars, epidemics and environmental destruction.  While workers pretend that there is nothing they can do to change the world, the capitalists, constantly focusing on satisfying their mad lust for money, will make our lives more and more difficult to bear.  With their new, idiotic campaign against Zika virus, they have undertaken to pointlessly scare the crap out of the world’s expectant mothers over something which has been demontrated for decades to be relatively harmless.

As a revolutionary Trotskyist political party we are not here to make money selling newspapers – we are here to tell the working class the truth about what is going on in the world as best as we can. We don’t benefit by spreading scare-stories like the bourgeois press does; that is one of the benefits of having a political party like ours solely dedicated to defending the rights and interests of the working class.  Sensationalizing such an important story would only bring discredit upon our political party – we have nothing to gain from such chicanery.  So here’s what we’ve been able to discover so far about Zika virus and its alleged link to microcephaly.

Brief historical background on Zika virus

Millions of people have been infected by Zika virus since 1947 and NEVER had there been a related outbreak of microcephaly reported anywhere – until late last year. Is there any reason to believe that something new is happening with Zika virus all of a sudden?  We think it is unlikely.  We could be wrong – we’re not doctors or virologists, and viruses can undergo evolutionary changes that transform harmless viruses into very dangerous forms.  Thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often – if it did, the human race would have been wiped out long ago. 

The Zika virus was first detected in Uganda in 1947; starting in 1951 the virus was detected in humans throughout Africa and, later on, in Asia. In Nigeria in the late ’60s – early ’70s it was found that antibodies produced in response to Zika virus infection were present in the blood samples of 40% of the people tested – meaning that human exposure to the virus was extremely common and that chances of long-term survival after exposure were very high. [Source: Edward B Hayes – Zika Virus Outside Africa]  During all this time that the virus was causing illness in human beings in many countries on two continents NO ONE reported cases of birth defects caused by the virus, nor were there any accompanying epidemics of microcephaly reported anywhere until in the recent Brazilian outbreak of 2015.  In a Zika virus epidemic in French Polynesia during 2013-14 there were reports of Zika virus illness accompanied by the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome  but those reports have not yet been confirmed as it is quite difficult to diagnose accurately.

News reports from Brazil, where an apparent epidemic of cases of microcephaly is now occurring, have screamed that the Zika virus is responsible for these microcephaly cases. BUT AS OF THIS WRITING, THERE IS NOT A SHRED OF SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE INDICATING THAT ZIKA VIRUS INFECTION CAUSES BIRTH DEFECTS IN HUMANS!  Something very unusual appears to be happening in Brazil… but it’s so very new that scientists simply don’t yet know what exactly is going on with the apparent birth defect outbreak there.  A closer look at the evidence indicates that the reported microcephaly outbreak may be greatly overstated.

Distribution of microcephaly cases in Brazil as of 28 November 2015. Source: ECDC

Distribution of microcephaly cases in Brazil as of 28 November 2015. Source: ibid., ECDC

Notified - NOT confirmed - cases of microcephaly reported in Brazil, 2010 - 2015. Source: ibid., ECDC

Notified – NOT confirmed – cases of microcephaly reported in Brazil, 2010 – 2015. Source: ibid., ECDC  Scary-looking graph – but over half (66%) of the reported cases of microcephaly examined so far turned out to have been falsely diagnosed, according to Brazilian health authorities quoted in the New York Times (see story below).

Over half of reported microcephaly cases in Brazil proven to have been wrongly diagnosed so far

The hysteria generated in Brazil by the idiot bourgeois press in their lust for profits has led to overstating of the number of actual cases of microcephaly in newborn Brazilian babies. The New York Times reported this past week that in well over half (462 out of 700 cases, or 66%) of the reported cases of microcephaly either no microcephaly was found, or it was equally likely to have been caused by something other than an infection like alcohol or drug abuse by the mother during pregnancy” according to the Brazilian Health Ministry.

Microcephaly is not always easy to diagnose in newborns, as many children are born with slightly smaller heads; in some cases, the parents themselves simply have slightly smaller skull sizes in comparison to the “average” – which is, by itself, not indicative of any brain abnormality at all. The “average” human skull is the median size between the largest and smallest – there is variation in human beings’ “normal” skull sizes. Except in extreme cases it is often necessary to wait for some time – months – before it becomes clear that a baby’s growth rate is not progressing normally.  Since many of the people whose babies are suspected of suffering from microcephaly are poor, their ability to obtain the proper medical care necessary to provide an early and accurate diagnosis is lacking – thanks to the crappy capitalist system which only provides quality health care to those who can pay for it.

Microcephaly cases in Brazil concentrated in northeastern provinces

The current hysteria over Zika and the perceived increase in Microcephaly cases in Brazil may well be leading to overdiagnosis of microcephaly by overly cautions medical personnel. It would be more accurate to say that what we are seeing in Brazil is not necessarily an increase in microcephaly, but an increase in the number of cases diagnosed as microcephaly.   Only time will tell how many actual cases there are.  As these suspected cases of microcephaly are studied over the next few months, it is highly likely that many of the babies will turn out to be developing normally.  It is crucially important at this stage of the investigation into this apparent unaccountable increase in microcephaly cases that all potential causes are looked into, not just Zika virus.  The distribution of microcephaly cases may be indicative of regional exposure to environmental toxins, contaminated food or milk or water or any number of other things.   Focusing solely on Zika could prove to be a costly mistake if it turns out that something else is causing the alarming rise in microcephaly cases.

SOMETHING is going on in northeastern Brazil which is causing a significant number of babies to be born with measurably smaller skulls.  The fact that never before have there been reports of increased incidence of microcephaly accompanying Zika infection – even after hundreds of millions of people having been exposed to it – is very good news and hopefully this long-term trend of no Zika virus-microcephaly link will continue.

 The Brazilian government seems to be focusing on eradication of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. This may turn out to be a waste of time and money as well as a wild goose chase that may have deleterious impacts on the environment. A very broad investigation encompassing all possible ways that pregnant women whose babies are confirmed to have microcephaly may have been exposed to chemicals or toxins known to cause such birth defects must be undertaken. It appears to us to be doubtful that Zika virus is in fact the cause of any actual microcephaly outbreak taking place in Brazil.

Adding to our suspicions that the world is going off on a wild goose chase is the latest data coming in from an even more recent outbreak of Zika infection in Brazil’s next-door neighbor, Colombia. There, additional thousands of people have come down with Zika virus illness – but as yet, thankfully! – no increase in the number of microcephaly cases has been reported there so far (as of 3 February 2016).  That is very good news!

Since the virus and its infection run their course so quickly it is impossible to say for certain whether or not a woman was infected with the Zika virus during her pregnancy unless blood and perhaps even spinal fluid samples were taken from her during the time she was suffering from a Zika infection. Reports that Brazilian women had been infected with Zika virus during their pregnancies were often based on surveys conducted with the women after they have given birth – months after their alleged Zika-related illness may or may not have occurred. It’s quite possible that many of these women whose babies have been born with severe birth defects and who THINK they may have been exposed to Zika virus during their pregnancy were not in fact exposed to the virus while they were pregnant. The media-induced hysteria could be creating create “false memories” in people who are only now, retrospectively “remembering” experiencing symptoms of the disease that were caused by other things.

Intensive studies of the apparrent microcephaly epidemic are underway now and we expect that the scientists investigating this mysterious outbreak of birth defects will be able to determine its cause over the next year.  At this time there is no reason for pregnant women to fear for the health of their babies due to the spread of the Zika virus. Health agencies are urging women living in or traveling to countries where the Zika virus outbreak is ongoing to take basic precautions to prevent exposure to the mosquitoes that carry the virus.  Since the mosquitoes that carry the virus are active in the daytime as well as night, pregnant women are urged to use insect repellent all day as well as mosquito netting while sleeping or resting.   

Based on our survey of the available literature from the WHO, PAHO, and the CDC and ECDC there is no solid scientific evidence at this time indicating that Zika virus definitely causes microcephaly or Guillain-Barre syndrome. The Zika virus has infected millions of people all over the world since the late 1940s and has proven so far to be as harmless as the common cold for the vast majority of people who are exposed to it. Zika is nowhere near as dangerous as “Ebola”.  There is at this time absolutely no reason for people to panic over the spread of this relatively innocuous virus.  We advise people to continue to monitor the situation as it develops over the next year.  Panicking does no one any good – unless you happen to be an owner of a print or broadcast media empire – or the head of state of a declining imperialist power like the United States.

—IWPCHI

[UPDATE 15 Mar 2016:  The latest information on the developments in Brazil relating to the Zika virus and its possible links to microcephaly cases that we have found was published over the past two weeks in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The titles and links are available below.  — IWPCHI

“Zika Virus Associated with Microcephaly” (reporting on ONE confirmed case);  New England Journal of Medicine, 10 Mar 2016

“Zika Virus Infection in Pregnant Women in Rio de Janeiro – Preliminary Report” NEJM 4 Mar 2016.  This article relates the findings of the first 88 pregnant women who have been enrolled in a study of the effect of Zika virus in them and their babies.  While prenatal ultrasound exams indicated microcephaly in 4 of the 88 babies examined so far, those results were only confirmed in just one case; two predicted cases of microcephaly based on ultrasound proved UNFOUNDED at birth.

Source: New England Journal of Medicine, "Zika Virus Infection in Pregnant Women in Rio de Janeiro - Preliminary Report", 4 March 2016 NEJM (4 Mar 2016) at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1602412#t=article

Source: New England Journal of Medicine, “Zika Virus Infection in Pregnant Women in Rio de Janeiro – Preliminary Report”, 4 March 2016
NEJM (4 Mar 2016) at
http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1602412#t=article

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