Mosquitos may be tasty menu delicacies for birds, frogs and fish, but in the human world they are annoying flying pests that leave itchy reddened welts on the skin. During the summer of 2016 mosquitos went from annoying to terrifying blood sucking predators when there was an outbreak of the Zika Virus.
The Zika Virus was named after a Ugandan Forest where it was first identified. The monkeys that inhabited the forest contracted the virus as early as 1947 and the first cases of human infection were spotted by 1952. Zika has expanded to Asia, South America and North America over the decades and transmission to humans remained rare. Reported symptoms of Zika were vague and mild such as slight fever, fatigue, headache, skin rash, and muscle and joint pain.
In 2016 Brazil reported a considerable number of the population experiencing a mild illness which involved a skin rash, however the Zika virus was not suspected or tested for during this time. Much attention was returned to the illness with the mild symptoms and skin rash when an unprecedented number of babies were born with microcephaly. Microcephaly is a rare condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the other infants of the same age.
Developmental issues often occur with microcephaly and public concern was increasing. The mild illness with the skin rash was linked to the Zika virus and scientists further added that the virus could be sexually transmitted, fear heightened when it was discovered that Zika can remain in semen longer than other body fluids.
This information is alarming, but before we lead ourselves into a sterile lab to live out the rest of our lives, let’s reexamine some facts regarding mosquitos and the Zika virus.
- Mosquitos have existed for millions of years and remain very similar to their Stone Age ancestors.
- Mosquitos lay eggs in stagnant water environments.
- Mosquitos are attracted to body heat and pregnant women run higher body temperatures.
- The Zika virus has been around over 50 years with no reports of microcephaly until recently.
- Humans infected with Zika in the past decades have generally had mild symptoms.
Brazil experienced a correlation of pregnant women with Zika giving birth to infants with microcephaly. However, in nearby Colombia, where there was also a large outbreak of Zika, there were no cases of microcephaly in the infants of women infected with the virus while pregnant. What Colombia did uncover was that there were four women that were not infected with the virus but still gave birth to infants with microcephaly. There seems to be a relationship with mosquito bites and Zika, and microcephaly, but there are also pregnant women infected with Zika in Colombia with no reports of microcephaly and uninfected women with births of microcephaly.
Could it be possible that Zika may not be the real culprit to this epidemic? Scientists have speculated that these rare birth defects could possibly be the result of a pesticide called “pyriproxyfe” which is used in Brazil in drinking waters to prevent diseases and, ironically, to kill the larvae of mosquitos.
Research studies have steadily confirmed that pesticide use has health consequences for humans and the environment. Could it be possible that this heavily used pesticide in Brazil is responsible for the increase in microcephalic birth rates? Scientists are suggesting further research to examine the potential link between the chemical pyriproxyfen and microcephaly.
Mosquitos are not being acquitted by a hung jury at this stage, because they remain responsible for many infections and life threatening diseases. Mosquitos have survived for millions of years and humans will have to coexist with them for now. The question appears to be: can we humans exist with chemical pesticides?