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Is microcephaly caused by Zika or pesticides?

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At the end of October, 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 Bahia and Paraiba.

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. 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. 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 northeast, where almost a third of the microcephaly cases 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, at the global level there are over 3 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 because their immune system is not fully developed.

Given these toxic effects of pesticides and that they are more heavily used in Brazil’s northeast 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 a more effective control of the epidemic.

Cesar Chelala is a medical doctor and an international public health consultant who often writes about public health issues.

  • SandyWT

    Monsanto is a monster–and has hurt the world much more than it has helped. Profits are more important than the environment or human life. The officers of this corporation will have a lot to answer for. What evil people.

  • vascgm

    colombia register 2824 Pregnant with zika and no cases of microcephaly.

    zika is fraud and false flag. 4000 cases of microcephaly this number reduced to 270 zika suspects and only 8 confirmed with zika with microcefaliar

    cases of zika is in northeastern Brazil concentrates 86% of cases and not in the whole Brazil. There decades in Africa and has no reporting microcefaliar in Africa. It is a globalist agenda for vaccines death by government and famarceuticos laboratories. In the same year he released transgenic mosquitoes had dengue epidemic in sao paulo in 2014

    Brazil has 205 million people on average have less 300 cases. US has on average 25,000 per year, but is not news, because there is alliance of governments worldwide in support of an agenda.

    “Workers Party” PT “which is the feminist movement and the government is interested in legalizing abortion in general Brazil ……. they will get in the coming months in the Supreme Court with federal safety mandate to legalize abortion by the Supreme because the national congress did not pass. the same government that prohibits cancer pill not expect anything else, since the voters of Rousseff believe that it is doing good from Brazil, but today dilma president can not even go out on the street who is booed its popularity is the Brazil’s history the worst. since President dilma won in 2014 with less 2% difference from the snows aecio opposition candidate.

    The President of Brazil Dilma wants to use combat the mosquito that transmits dengue and zika etc …. to distract the people, because your government is in the news involved in several corruption scandals involving members of his party and allies arrested for corruption and the process impeachment in the coming months. use mosquito fight to distract the people, but many Brazilians have already agreed to it..

  • vascgm

    colombia register 2824 Pregnant with zika and no cases of microcephaly.

    zika is fraud and false flag. 4000 cases of microcephaly this number reduced to 270 zika suspects and only 8 confirmed with zika with microcefaliar

    cases of zika is in northeastern Brazil concentrates 86% of cases and not in the whole Brazil. There decades in Africa and has no reporting microcefaliar in Africa. It is a globalist agenda for vaccines death by government and famarceuticos laboratories. In the same year he released transgenic mosquitoes had dengue epidemic in sao paulo in 2014

    Brazil has 205 million people on average have less 300 cases. US has on average 25,000 per year, but is not news, because there is alliance of governments worldwide in support of an agenda.

    “Workers Party” PT “which is the feminist movement and the government is interested in legalizing abortion in general Brazil ……. they will get in the coming months in the Supreme Court with federal safety mandate to legalize abortion by the Supreme because the national congress did not pass. the same government that prohibits cancer pill not expect anything else, since the voters of Rousseff believe that it is doing good from Brazil, but today dilma president can not even go out on the street who is booed its popularity is the Brazil’s history the worst. since President dilma won in 2014 with less 2% difference from the snows aecio opposition candidate.

    The President of Brazil Dilma wants to use combat the mosquito that transmits dengue and zika etc …. to distract the people, because your government is in the news involved in several corruption scandals involving members of his party and allies arrested for corruption and the process impeachment in the coming months. use mosquito fight to distract the people, but many Brazilians have already agreed to it..

    • Starviking

      colombia register 2824 Pregnant with zika and no cases of microcephaly.

      Zika has just started spreading in Colombia, it takes a woman 9 months to go from conception to birth – your comment makes no sense.

      • vascgm

        sorry…. news real

  • Starviking

    Dear Dr Chelala, it appears your hypothesis is wrong:

    Meanwhile Brazil’s Ministry of Health attempted to reassure people by saying pyriproxyfen had been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as Brazil’s health surveillance agency Anvisa.

    Even so, two Brazilian states – Rio Grande do Sul in the south and Para in the north – temporarily banned its use in drinking water, saying they wanted to avoid any risks while further studies were carried out.

    A third factor

    But in the worst-affected state, Pernambuco, the facts do not support the larvicide theory.

    Some areas where pyriproxyfen is used do not have any cases of microcephaly while the city of Recife, which has most cases, does not use it, officials at the state’s centre for disease control said.

    And doctors say the alterations seen in the babies’ CT scans suggest that the lesions were caused by a congenital infection, and not by pesticides, drugs or vaccines.

    Ref: From BBC News

  • Starviking

    Dear Dr Chelala, it appears your hypothesis is wrong:

    Meanwhile Brazil’s Ministry of Health attempted to reassure people by saying pyriproxyfen had been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as Brazil’s health surveillance agency Anvisa.

    Even so, two Brazilian states – Rio Grande do Sul in the south and Para in the north – temporarily banned its use in drinking water, saying they wanted to avoid any risks while further studies were carried out.

    A third factor

    But in the worst-affected state, Pernambuco, the facts do not support the larvicide theory.

    Some areas where pyriproxyfen is used do not have any cases of microcephaly while the city of Recife, which has most cases, does not use it, officials at the state’s centre for disease control said.

    And doctors say the alterations seen in the babies’ CT scans suggest that the lesions were caused by a congenital infection, and not by pesticides, drugs or vaccines.

    Ref: From BBC News