“…and hold on to one thought. You’re not important. You’re not anything. Someday, the load we’re carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people…and when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steam shovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. Come on now, we’re gonna build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the first year and take a long look in them.” -Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)
Have you ever thought about the fact that history is even more important to learn about than science? I think they’re both important, but if there’s one thing being impressed upon my mind right now, it’s the fact that I don’t know nearly enough history, and I want my children to grow up learning so much more about our past mistakes as a society and learning from those mistakes and using them to build a sort of framework on what not to do in their own lives. It goes deeper than that, but this post is about zika, not history.
I don’t know if 2015-2016 qualifies as “history” yet, but I want to write about it, because there is so much to learn from this outbreak, from the lives and money needlessly sacrificed as a result; enough for us to deny ourselves the pleasure of ignorance.
Looking back, I think most of us think of the Zika scare as mostly hype, and we roll our eyes and move on. I was pregnant in 2016, and I remember asking my midwife about it. She wasn’t concerned. But I remember worrying about it a little bit, and I’m not positive I would have traveled that year if we had planned it. I remember worrying about my sister in Honduras, who was pregnant at the time as well. Microcephaly is a scary thing to contemplate when there’s a tiny life inside you that you feel the responsibility to protect, and whether it was hyped up or not, babies were being born in Brazil with this condition and statistics don’t mean a lot when you’re one of the ones counted.
That region of Brazil had close to 400 cases of babies born by the end of 2015. It rose into the thousands over the next months. It was an alarming increase and probably enough of a scare to warrant some attention. Not nearly as much as it received, maybe, but some. For sure worth finding the cause and stopping the tragedy as soon as possible.
It all blew over, so most of us are content to go on with our lives and not worry about it, but what if there’s something here for us to learn? Something vital, where ignorance just means we’ll repeat the same mistakes, and possibly devastate many more lives the next time around?
Did you know that microcephaly was limited mostly to a tiny region in Brazil? Did you know that the Zika virus was not limited to just that area?
What proof do we have that Zika was the sole culprit?
The answer is one paper.  This paper is cited thousands of times all over the media as proof. It was the push behind hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for research,  accelerated vaccine development,  carpet bombing southern FL,  and releasing genetically modified mosquitoes.  Some idiot (and Peter Hotez) at the New York Post wanted to bring back DDT. She blames alarmism for the DDT ban to begin with (another sad display of ignorance of the actual history, and also, not reading the science) and states that “nearly 300 pregnant women have been infected with the Zika virus, putting their babies at risk for a devastating birth defect.” How many of those babies were born with microcephaly? One. And the mother was not even a confirmed diagnosis of Zika. How’s that for some alarmism?
How did this paper go about proving that Zika causes microcephaly? The conclusion states that Zika infections are rare and birth defects are rare, so there must be a causal link. Did they look at any other possible causes for birth defects? No. The paper cites a small study that involved 72 pregnant women, all diagnosed with Zika. 12 of them appear to have fetal abnormalities. “Some findings lacked postnatal confirmation.” They don’t say how many.
The second study looked at an outbreak in French Polynesia. The number of babies born with microcephaly increased from 2 to 8 that year, so they cited this as evidence that the rise in numbers was because of the Zika outbreak, without ever investigating any other factors that may have been involved. The entire paper cites exactly zero scientific proof that Zika causes birth defects. When all the studies and research are specifically looking for a Zika connection and none of them are looking into other factors for a possible cause…Zika is the only answer they will find.
You will not find what you are not looking for.
What if they would have asked some questions? Like: what changed the year before? Were there any new mandates implemented or environmental factors changed that could play a plausible role? What about the diagnosis of microcephaly itself? Criteria is constantly changing as we learn and it’s possible the criteria for microcephaly changed so the new diagnosis captured more cases.
So did something change in Brazil in 2014? Yes. Two things, actually.
Numero Uno: The TDaP vaccine was mandated for pregnant women that year in October.  I’m not saying….but I’m not NOT saying, know what I’m sayin’? 😛 Okay, I’ll stop. All I’m saying is this: there was a change that matches the timeline…why not look into it? What if there was a bad lot? That is known to happen sometimes. 
Doctors were told to do the entire 3 series of the TDaP during the pregnancy and through the 36th week of gestation. One woman who had a little girl born with microcephaly despite never having a single symptom of the virus, said she got a shot every month of her pregnancy.  One hopes she’s not correct in her statement, but if 3 shots were supposed to be administered, and the clinics have a hard time keeping records, who is to say she is wrong?
Is it far fetched to posit that the TDaP might cause microcephaly? Well, no one knows. Even if this vaccine had been properly tested during pregnancy (spoiler alert: it’s not), they for sure haven’t tested a 3 or more dose series. No one can say we know what ramifications there would be if given over and over during crucial points in neurodevelopment. In the US, this vaccine is only recommended once, late in the third trimester of pregnancy.
The mandate was passed in October of 2014. Exactly ten months later, in August of 2015, the first cases of microcephaly began to appear. 
Numero Dos: Starting in 2014, pyriproxyfen was put into Brazilian water supplies to fight the proliferation of mosquito larvae. 
A 2017 study concludes with the following: “This paper analyzes the potential causal connection between the pesticide pyriproxyfen and microcephaly, as an alternative to Zika. Pyriproxyfen is a juvenile hormone analog, which has been shown to be cross reactive with retinoic acid, part of the mammalian regulatory system for neurological development, whose application during development causes microcephaly. This causal chain provides ample justification for pursuing a careful research effort on the role of pyriproxyfen in neurodevelopmental disorders. Counter to stated claims, existing studies of neurodevelopmental toxicity by Sumitomo, its manufacturer, provide some supportive evidence for neurodevelopmental toxicity including low brain weight in rat pups. The large-scale use of pyriproxyfen in Brazil and its coincidental timing with an increase in microcephaly cases should provide additional motivation. We believe that this evidence is strong enough to warrant an immediate cessation of pyriproxyfen application to Brazilian water supplies until additional research can be carried out on its neurodevelopmental toxicity. Alternative hypotheses about causes or factors affecting the incidence of microcephaly should be considered.“
Again. I’m not saying…but…maybe I kind of am.
So we have one paper with very little real evidence to support that microcephaly was caused by the virus. Some moms were diagnosed with it, some were not. Some had symptoms where a diagnosis was assumed, others never had any symptoms of the virus at all. The predictions for the future were dire. The panic was extreme. Olympic events were avoided by athletes who had trained their whole lives. Women delayed pregnancies entirely. Doctors on TV called it the “virus from hell” and predicted catastrophic results, comparing it to the public health equivalent of Catrina.
And then…it fizzled.
Well, Zika didn’t fizzle. That spread happily from country to country, growing in numbers as testing became more common (big surprise). Microcephaly cases, despite the predictions from all the health authorities, did not rise. Instead, they dropped. As Zika spread but microcephaly dropped, the backpedlaing began. The WHO and Brazilian authorities said they were over counting Zika. That the hundreds of mothers with babies born with microcephaly were misdiagnosed.  They blamed some of the cases on dengue and chikungunya viruses instead, even though the latter isn’t even known to cause microcephaly at all.
In Puerto Rico, they concluded the exact opposite! They were under counting the Zika cases. 
So Brazil is over diagnosing their population with Zika, and that’s why the birth defects dropped so rapidly, meanwhile, the CDC is saying Puerto Rico is under diagnosing its cases and that’s why there haven’t been as many birth defects.
So while the health officials and scientists concentrate on the math and explaining away the dire predictions of a huge rise in Zika related birth defects that didn’t actually happen, basically admitting they’re not diagnosing it properly (either that, or they don’t know how to count–which is it?) no one seems to be wondering if Zika might not have much of an impact on birth defects after all. If Zika is not to blame, what is?
And I just have to ask the question: what if the Zika vaccine would have been ready in time? What if the numbers dropped right alongside the rise in vaccine uptake? The mystery would be forever solved, wouldn’t it? This dread virus popped out of nowhere and suddenly started causing all this damage, but then the scientists arrived in their white coats and saved us all! No more questions asked. But since there is no vaccine for Zika yet, these questions kind of hang in the air…unanswered.
Watching them walk back the panic they had instigated was fascinating and, I admit, kind of funny. This video of WHO scientists at a press release, deescalating the emergency despite the continuing spread of Zika is great. There’s a lot of squirming and mumbling and obfuscation. They called off the national emergency. Without any explanation. The reporters were understandably confused.
I just have to point out. These health authorities never apologize. They do not admit they were wrong. They pulled back the mass panic, at least, but there is so very little honesty, and what little glimmer of truth they were forced to give us, was only because no vaccine had been invented in time to change the narrative so they could take all the glory. And these are the people we trust with statistics and “unbiased” science.
Have you ever noticed that when something is supposedly caused by nature, some mutation that makes a particular virus suddenly capable of causing untold harm, some infection that is easily stopped with a vaccine, scientists RUSH to find an answer, spending millions of dollars for a “cure”, an almost frantic amount of energy is spent on saving lives. But when it’s a man-made problem (with the one weird exception of global warming), when we’ve done it to ourselves, when it’s a simple switch we need to turn off in order to save millions of lives ruined, no one seems to care. Is it because finding a cure would make one a lauded hero, and pointing out our mistake and telling everyone to stop making it would make you a vilified villain? Is it because with one, the cure creates an untold stream of revenue for whoever gets it out there first, and for the other, no one gets paid?
What if we compare Zika to autism? The blinders come right off. What if Zika caused autism? Can you imagine the mass panic and horror at our children now being effected at 1 in 32 and rising? Do you think doctors and scientists would stop normalizing autism and calling it “neurodiversity”, and be racing for a stop to this horrifying, debilitating disease that effects so many of us? Would they stop focusing on the cases that “don’t show many symptoms” and instead, draw your attention to the percentage of cases that are so severe and devastating that they remain in diapers, need constant supervision, self harm (28%), will never marry, never speak (40%), have seizures they will not grow out of (up to 38%), will never get a job (35%), and will be dependent on someone else for the rest of their lives? Their mortality is twice as high as the general population so “the rest of their lives” is relative, I guess. 
Would the news be a constant echo chamber of the financial devastation we will experience as these children outlive their parents and have no one to care for them? In 2014, the estimated cost of an autism diagnosis per child was 1.4 million if they were not also diagnosed with an intellectual disability, with an intellectual disability, it goes up to 2.4 million per child here in the US.  The cost per year for the care of all autistic children is $268 billion per year as of 2015 and is projected to reach $1 trillion per year by 2025.  That is 3.6% of GDP, which is more than the entire defense department costs per year (3.1% of GDP), just for a little reference. What is it going to take to get people to panic about that much devastation and loss?
One wonders what the world would be like right now if autism was caused by a virus. Ironically, at this point in time, we can very easily imagine such a world.