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If you’re having a feeling of déjà vu over the recent coverage of Zika in the press, you’re not alone. Just cast your mind back to Ebola in 2014 / 2015. Before that Bird Flu and Swine Flu. SARS. Or go even further back to the 1980’s with HIV and AIDS. 
 
So are we saying that you should ignore Zika and hope it’ll go away? No, of course not. 
 
Nor are we advocating the other extreme of believing everything that appears in the media. Hype is hype, wherever it comes from. 
 
Instead let’s take a step back and put things into a bit more perspective. 
 
 
Take all the furore over Ebola in 2014. Figures released by the World Health Organisation for 2014 focussed on three African countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. 
 
Of 28,603 suspected cases, 15,217 were confirmed by laboratory tests, with 11,301 deaths. 
 
However, these figures have been called into question, particularly the reliability of tests used to confirm the presence of the virus. 
At the same time many experts have highlighted a number of other factors which would make people more susceptible to ANY DISEASE not just Ebola. Poor nutrition. Lack of clean drinking water. Poor living conditions and sanitation. Overuse of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. 
 
By way of comparison, for the rest Africa there were 29 suspected cases, 27 were confirmed with 14 deaths. For the rest of the world there were 7 suspected cases, all of which were confirmed, with 1 death in the United States. Now we’ve put the hype into perspective, let’s take a look at Zika. 
 
The Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947 in a Rhesus monkey. It’s spread to humans by a bite from an infected mosquito. 
 
Symptoms are mild and flu like consisting of a fever, rash, joint pain, headache and conjunctivitis. Zika lasts for about a week although the virus may remain in the person’s blood for another week afterwards. 
 
Until 2007 scientists knew of only 14 cases of Zika. The reason for this is simple. Zika is a mild disease, only lasting a few days, so not usually requiring any medical intervention. That year it was found on Yap Island in the Pacific Ocean and, from there, spread to other islands in the South Pacific. Early in 2015 it was found in Easter Island for the first time and then in Brazil in May of that year. 
 
Zika probably wouldn’t have made the news had it not been for a sudden increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil since October 2015. It’s estimated that this rare condition affects around 150 babies born each year in Brazil. However, since October 2015, more than 4,780 cases have been reported. 
 
So is the Zika virus really to blame? 
 
While it’s true that both the Zika virus AND the increase in cases of microcephaly in babies are both recent occurrences in Brazil; it doesn’t automatically mean that one causes the other. In fact up until now Zika had never been linked – or even considered to play a part – in birth defects. 
 
Added to this the Brazilian government has already admitted that its guidelines for reporting microcephaly are “overly generous” leading to many “false positives”. In other words the true figure of babies affected is likely to be much smaller than the figures currently suggest. 
 
As a result of this a review of the 4,780 cases already reported is now underway. So far 709 cases have been ruled out as “false positives”. 404 have been confirmed, but only 17 of these tested positive for Zika. 
 
Despite all of this, the World Health Authority (WHO) declared Zika a “Global Health Emergency” on 1st February 2016. 
 
What may be the real cause? 
 
Before we go any further, let’s look at America’s own guidelines on microcephaly. The CDC – Centre for Disease Control and Prevention – sets out three risk factors. One is infections during pregnancy such as Rubella. This may help to explain the focus on Zika. However there are two other risk factors, both of which have been ignored. Malnutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals. 
 
So let’s start with a look at the area where the outbreak started. A poverty stricken agricultural area of Brazil. Not surprisingly living conditions are poor and nutrition basic. Deficiencies of Vitamin A – which comes from green leafy vegetables, fish and liver – and Zinc are widespread AND deficiencies of both of which have been linked to an increased risk of microcephaly and poor brain development. 
 
Added to this, Brazil is the largest user of pesticides worldwide, including many products banned in other countries. Some are applied directly to the fields, such as Atrazine, others are sprayed from the air, such as neonicotinoids. Sadly basic health and safety procedures, including the use of protective clothing, are often ignored. Pesticide exposure has already linked to many health problems, including birth defects. 
 
Brazil is also the third largest consumer of antibiotics for food and animal production. By a strange twist of fate, this reliance on antibiotics has scuppered a recent plan to use genetically modified mosquitos to outcompete their native brothers; so theoretically reducing the occurrence of Zika and Dengue Fever. Unfortunately, the genie has been let out of the bottle and we have to wait to see what the outcome of this failed experiment will be. 
 
More worryingly a chemical larvicide, Pyroproxyfen, has been added to drinking water for the last 18 months as part of a government programme to help eradicate mosquitos. Not only does it cause malformations in mosquitoes, but disrupts hormones and has been linked to birth defects. 
 
And if all that wasn’t enough, in October 2014 another government programme brought in the mandatory vaccination of pregnant women with Tdap – Tetanus, Diptheria and Pertussis. Sadly, the Pertussis vaccine had already been linked to brain damage in children and the vaccine wasn’t tested for safety on pregnant women before being introduced. 
 
When you start to look at the bigger picture, it quickly becomes clear how many similarities there are with the Ebola outbreak. 
 
But rather than looking at these well known risk factors, the focus has been on the spread of a new virus called Zika. So why is this? 
 
On one hand, commentators have suggested that the big chemical companies want to cover up the risks – and so liability – of their products. At the same time, the big pharmaceutical companies stand to make a huge financial windfall from the classification of Zika as a “Global Health Emergency”. In other words the development of drugs and vaccinations to treat it. If you’re in any doubt about this, look at the development – and stockpiling – of vaccines for Swine Flu and Ebola. And don’t forget the added pressure of the Olympics being held in Brazil this summer. 
 
Once again the message is coming over loud and clear. Don’t take on trust everything you hear on the news or read in the paper. Take a little time to do your own research. It’s quick and easy to do these days with the internet. And if you don’t have time to, why not just sit on the fence and watch what happens. The results may surprise you. 
 
As always, the choice is yours. 
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