5 Essential Questions to Ask About the Zika Virus Before Accepting the Hype

Asking questions about the Zika virus at this point is critical.
02/03/2016 01:55pm ET | Updated February 3, 2017
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Before becoming racked with fear over the Zika virus (a flavivirus, which for the most part, have arthropod vectors, e.g., mosquitoes) we may want to take our time and explore this emerging story in depth, as the fear mongering has begun. First, it is important to ask questions. Asking questions is NOT an avenue toward conspiracy theorizing, but thinking. During my studies as an MPH student, at Yale University's School of Public Health, followed by the acquisition of my Doctorate, in Community Health Education, from Columbia University Teachers College, I was taught to question everything, from an epidemiological vantage point and beyond, in terms of diseases. Beyond educational training/research, there is also common sense that leads to inquiry.

The Zika virus is not new as it was identified in 1947. Microcephaly (in this instance, referring specifically to babies born with small heads) is also not new. According to a recent article in the New York Times, "An estimated 25,000 babies receive a microcephaly diagnosis each year in the United States. Microcephaly simply means that the baby's head is abnormally small -- sometimes just because the parents themselves have unusually small heads." This fact is shared, from my perspective, with deep compassion for the babies, mothers, parents and families dealing with this issue.

The Zika virus has been in the Pacific Islands, and other parts of the world, as we are being told, before now. The question is, where are all the babies with microcephaly in the Pacific Islands? "Other regions that have experienced recent Zika outbreaks -- mostly Pacific islands -- have not reported an increase in microcephaly." Furthermore, "How many cases of microcephaly in Brazil have actually been linked to the Zika virus? Of the nearly 4,200 cases reported, only six have been linked with certainty to the virus," per NPR.

Causal Relationships
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:

"Microcephaly can be present at birth or it may develop in the first few years of life. It is associated with Down's syndrome, chromosomal syndromes, and neurometabolic syndromes. Babies may also be born with microcephaly if, during pregnancy, their mother abused drugs or alcohol, became infected with a cytomegalovirus, rubella (German measles), or varicella (chicken pox) virus, was exposed to certain toxic chemicals or had untreated phenylketonuria (PKU)."

Sexual Transmission
As for sexual transmission of the Zika virus, which has surfaced in recent discussions as a possibility, there are only two cases that are questionable. There is also one new case of purported sexual transmission recently reported (see # 4 below).

Therefore, the bottom line is that before fear and hysteria set in regarding the Zika virus, the following key questions should be asked:

1. If the Zika virus was identified in 1947, were there a significant number of cases of microcephaly then and beyond, before current stories, and if not why?

Correlation and Causation
2. Are all of the cases of microcephaly currently in Brazil, and other locations in current stories, directly correlated with the Zika virus? If not, how many and is the number significant enough to establish positive correlation and hence, causation?

3. Is it a proven fact, that the Zika virus, in general, causes microcephaly with specific, established, scientific, documented evidence?

Sexual Transmission
4. Is the Zika virus sexually transmitted and if so, what is the determination of such, beyond two cases that may establish this as a possibility? One case of sexual transmission has now been identified in the U.S. If the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted and was identified in 1947, it would seem that there would be more than three cases.

Other Possible Causes
5. Have all other possible causes, as indicated by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke mentioned above, been ruled out?

Asking questions about the Zika virus at this point is critical. There is no reason not to ask questions before accepting the hype.