FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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

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.

More articles by:

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.”

Weekend Edition
August 07, 2020
Friday - Sunday
John Davis
The COVID Interregnum
Louis Yako
20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19
Patrick Cockburn
War and Pandemic Journalism: the Truth Can Disappear Fast
Eve Ottenberg
Fixing the COVID Numbers
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose
Paul Street
Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here
Robert Hunziker
The World on Fire
Rob Urie
Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left
John Laforge
USAF Vet Could Face ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs’ for Protest Against US H-Bombs Stationed in Germany
Andrew Levine
Clyburn’s Complaint
Kavaljit Singh
Revisiting the Idea of Pigou Wealth Tax in the Time of Covid-19
Paul Ryder
Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again
T.J. Coles
Fighting Over Kashmir Could Blow Up the Planet
David Macaray
Haven’t We All Known Guys Who Were Exactly like Donald Trump?
Conn Hallinan
What’s Driving the Simmering Conflict Between India and China
Joseph Natoli
American Failures: August, 2020
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid or One State: Has Jordan Broken a Political Taboo?
Bruce Hobson
The US Left Needs Humility to Understand Mexican Politics
David Rosen
Easy Targets: Trump’s Attacks on Transgendered People
Ben Debney
The Neoliberal Virus
Evelyn Leopold
Is Netanyahu Serious About Annexing Jordan Valley?
Nicky Reid
When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan
Irma A. Velásquez Nimatuj
The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified
Kathy Kelly
Reversal: Boeing’s Flow of Blood
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade
Ariela Ruiz Caro
South American Nations Adopt Different COVID-19 Stategies, With Different Results
Ron Jacobs
Exorcism at Boston’s Old West Church, All Hallows Eve 1971
J.P. Linstroth
Bolsonaro’s Continuous Follies
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Right-Wing Populism and the End of Democracy
Dean Baker
Trump’s Real Record on Unemployment in Two Graphs
Michael Welton
Listening, Conflict and Citizenship
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump Is The Only One Who Should Be Going To School This Fall
John Feffer
America’s Multiple Infections
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Thinking Outside the Social Media Echo Chamber
Andrea Mazzarino
The Military is Sick
John Kendall Hawkins
How the Middle Half Lives
Graham Peebles
The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid
Robert P. Alvarez
The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election
Greg Macdougall
Ottawa Bluesfest at Zibi: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility
CounterPunch News Service
Tensions Escalate as Logging Work Commences Near Active Treesits in a Redwood Rainforest
Louis Proyect
The Low Magic of Charles Bukowski
Gloria Oladipo
Rural America Deserves a Real COVID-19 Response
Binoy Kampmark
Crossing the Creepy Line: Google, Deception and the ACCC
Marc Norton
Giants and Warriors Give Their Workers the Boot
David Yearsley
Celebration of Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail