FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Is Microcephaly in Children Caused by the Zika Virus or by Pesticides?

by

shutterstock_200494427

At the end of October 2015, the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, located in the northeast of the country, started reporting a dramatic increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a condition characterized by a shrunken head and brain. The cases in Pernambuco were soon followed by similar ones in the nearby states of Bahía and Paraíba.

The cases of microcephaly seemed to be connected to an outbreak of the Zika virus, first recognized in Uganda in the 1940s. Zika is transmitted by Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that thrives in stagnant water pools. In the same way as malaria, dengue and Chikungunya, the Zika virus infection results in similar symptoms: fever, joint pain and rashes.

Thus, ominously, parallel to the increased number of pregnant women infected with the Zika virus there was an increase of microcephaly cases in their children. Because CT scans of those babies’ brains showed signs of calcification usually associated with an infectious disease rather than a genetic abnormality, many experts thought that their microcephaly was caused by the Zika virus.

Also, while in 2014 there had been 150 reported cases of microcephaly across all of Brazil, 3,893 cases of microcephaly had been reported in 2015, with Pernambuco accounting for almost a third of the total number of cases. It seemed clear that the Zika virus was causing the babies’ microcephaly.

However, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director –General of the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested caution. “Although a causal link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly has not, and I must emphasize, has not been established, the circumstantial evidence is suggestive and extremely worrisome,” she said. Dr. Chan’s opinion was echoed by Dr. Patricia Pestana Garcez, a neurodevelopment expert who studies microcephaly at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil who said, “There is no direct evidence that the virus causes microcephaly.” However, she added that circumstantial evidence was strong enough to advise everybody not to take chances.

At the same time that the role of the Zika virus in the production of microcephaly in children was being studied, some environmental activists called attention to the role of pesticides as the possible cause for this abnormality in children.

Many experts and environmental activists alerted on how some agricultural chemicals–such as paraquat, which has been classified as “highly poisonous” by U.S. regulators- which have been banned or phased out in leading industrialized nations, continue being extensively used in many developing countries, notable Brazil. They are particularly used in Brazil’s north-east, where almost a third of cases of microcephaly have occurred so far.

In the last few years, Brazil has become one of the top exporters of orange juice, sugar, coffee, beef, poultry and soybeans. Brazil’s huge production of those items is probably due, in part, to the extensive use of pesticides, many of them highly toxic to humans.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at the global level, there are over three million cases of pesticide poisoning each year and more than 220,000 deaths, mostly in developing countries.

Exposure to some pesticides can cause a wide range of health problems such as memory loss, loss of coordination, behavioral effects and reduced motor skills. In addition, they may cause asthma, allergies, cancer, hormone disruption, and problems with reproduction and fetal development, such as microcephaly. Children are at greater risk of exposure to pesticides because of their small size and that their immune system is not fully developed.

Given these toxic effects of pesticides and that they are more heavily used in Brazil’s north-east region, it is not unreasonable to think that, at least in some cases, microcephaly may be due to excessive use of toxic pesticides and that these effects, have been unmasked by the Zika virus infection. It is also possible to think that microcephaly in children may have a multi causal origin.

This situation poses the need to urgently investigate more thoroughly the effects of both the Zika virus and pesticides in causing microcephaly in children, and for the public health authorities of the countries most threatened by this virus to coordinate actions for the more effective control of the epidemic.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Sam Husseini
Why We Should All Remain Seated: the Anti-Muslim Origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
Dmitry Kovalevich
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus as Fear and Loathing Grip Europe
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail