The Zika conspiracies have begun

Like cockroaches, the conspiracy theorists suggesting the Zika virus outbreak is anything but a normal, naturally-occurring event have begun to come out of the woodwork. To be expected, the theories they're espousing make no sense scientifically, and each theory is incompatible with the others, but why should anyone expect that conspiracy theorists would actually use logic?

Claim One: the current Zika virus outbreak is due to the release of genetically-modified mosquitoes by British company Oxitec. The suggestion is that GMO mosquitoes were released in the same area of Brazil now experiencing Zika outbreaks, and somehow these mosquitoes caused the outbreak. The mosquitoes are engineered to require the antibiotic tetracycline in order to survive development in the wild, so when a wild female mosquito breeds with a male GMO mosquitoe, it's essentially is a death sentence to the female's offspring. Theorists argue that livestock use of tetracycline leaves this antibiotic in the environment, allowing some offspring to survive. Somehow, Zika is inserted into this.

Who's claiming this? Stories at Natural News, the Daily Mirror, The Ecologist, and Antimedia, among others. Alex Jones brings in the Bill Gates connection.

What's wrong with it? There's absolutely nothing that makes sense to relate this to Zika. Even if these GMO mosquitoes can reproduce, that doesn't mean they're suddenly infected with the Zika virus. This article probably lays it out the best as far as a suggested mechanism, but even then it's a convoluted mess, suggesting a transposon* (a "jumping gene") moved from the mosquito into Zika virus (but where did the Zika come from in the first place though? was it already in Brazil?), then that transposon made Zika more virulent and gave the virus "an enhanced ability to enter and disrupt human DNA" (what??), which then leads to microcephaly. All without absolutely any citations from the scientific literature to back up this scenario, of course.

And that's even assuming that the area where the testing occurred was the same as where the mosquitoes were released. It's not, as both The Mad Virologist and Christie Wilcox point out. Both have many more details taking down this theory as well.

Claim Two: a program encouraging pregnant women to get the Tdap vaccine led to the presumed increase in microcephaly in Brazilian babies. Because, toxins?

Who's claiming this? Really credible places, like Brazilian Shrunken Head Babies (not even joking).

What's wrong with it? Pretty much everything. First, the vaccine isn't recommended until relatively late in pregnancy; even one of the links cited by the "shrunken heads" page notes that it's suggested in the 27th to 36th week of pregnancy. This is very late in pregnancy to have such a severe effect on brain/skull development. For other microbes that cause microcephaly (such as cytomegalovirus or rubella), infection occurring in the first half of the pregnancy (before 20 weeks) is usually associated with a higher likelihood of adverse developmental outcomes, not one very late like Tdap. And of course, this theory completely contradicts the "Zika-GMO mosquito" one, which suggests that Zika is the cause.

Biologically, this makes zero sense--and furthermore, why wouldn't other countries be seeing this spike, if Tdap is truly the cause? Women in the U.S. and other countries also receive this vaccine during pregnancy, but we haven't seen an increase in microcephaly cases. Furthermore, a recent study has demonstrated yet again that Tdap is very safe during pregnancy.

Claim Three: Rockefeller something something bioterrorism something, maybe. They've taken the fact that an organization, the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), has Zika virus available on their website, and twisted that into apparently some kind of deliberate release, maybe? It's all pretty shadowy. [Updated: this site very clearly says the Rockefellers invented it to kill people. If that were true, they did a pretty shitty job].

Who's claiming this? Chemtrails Global Skywatch and The Freethought Project.

What's wrong with it? Even the Freethought Project post basically unravels its own conspiracy theory, but still posted this for some reason, noting "It seems that while the virus is available online, it is not extremely easy to get, and would likely require some extremely creative fraud in order to make it happen," but concluding that " definitely does seem that it would be possible for a group or individual that is determined enough to make their way through the website’s security measures."

I seriously doubt that.

For those of you who don't know, ATCC is basically a global clearinghouse for biological samples--they offer tissue culture lines, bacteria, viruses, etc. Researchers need these for a number of reasons, such as having positive controls for assays, or to be sure they're using the same cells as another investigator whose work they want to replicate or expand upon. I've used them many times to get both bacteriophage as well as isolates of bacteria for my research projects. And they won't ship to just some random person.

When I moved institutions and set up my new laboratory, on my first ATCC order, they contacted the director of biosafety at my institution to be sure my lab was equipped and ready to handle the organisms I had requested. When that was assured, we still had to establish a Material Transfer Agreement in order for the items to actually be shipped--a legal document between ATCC and my university, signed by an "authorized representative" of my institution. It was only after jumping through all of these hoops that I was finally able to get the requested samples.

Even if someone had chosen to order Zika, an obscure, mostly-asymptomatic virus that until this outbreak was not associated with any serious ill effects, and perpetuated the "extremely creative fraud" mentioned by the Freethought Project...why? They'd need to initially infect themselves or others in order for the mosquitoes to subsequently become competent vectors of the virus. The mosquitoes would feed on them when there was adequate virus in the blood, and presumably the insects would then be released--to what end? To spread a previously-thought-relatively-harmless virus into a new population? Again, nonsensical.

[Updated: this doesn't mean that "Rockefeller owns the patent on Zika virus," as sites like this are claiming. As far as I can ascertain, there are no patents involving Zika. What it means is that the virus was deposited by Jordi Casals, who was an eminent virologist and had a large collection of viruses that he accumulated throughout his career, including Zika (but many others, as a search of ATCC shows). Rockefeller makes no money on this--in fact, now some journals require deposition of strains to ATCC or similar banks as a condition for publishing.]

Claim four: Zika simply doesn't exist and/or isn't causing microcephaly, and the "outbreak" is a ploy to push the not-yet-extant Zika vaccine/get people to blindly obey the government. (hat tip to Mary Mangan for this one).

Who's claiming this? HIV denier and anti-vax advocate Jon Rappoport, among others (another post of his here on the topic). A very common sentiment in the comments pages on anti-vaccine pages.

What's wrong with it? Pretty much everything. Rappoport has made a meta-conspiracy theory, claiming the increase in microcephaly is caused not by Zika, but by a combination of pesticide use and manufacturing, the Tdap and GMO mosquitoes mentioned above, mosquito sprays, and poverty/sanitation/malnutrition (the boogeymen of every anti-vaccine advocate). While he's correct that the link between Zika and microcephaly isn't yet 100% confirmed (as I mentioned yesterday), he's taking at face value the claim that there actually is an increase in microcephaly at all--something which is also not been confirmed. So like many science deniers, he's taking the parts of the research that fit his biases (look at how toxic Brazil is! Of course it's causing health problems in babies!) and ignoring the parts he doesn't--that if there is an increase in microcephaly, Zika might be a driving force. In his mind, the virus is irrelevant and just a mechanism to make the public into "sheep" who will fall in line with government recommendations.

I'm sure this will not be the last of the conspiracy theories. Like those we saw with Ebola, these have the potential to cause real harm. Outcry over the GMO mosquito program can curtail use of another agent to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito--the primary vector not only of Zika, but also yellow fever, chikungunya, and dengue. I know those who benefit from these type of conspiracies will never stop churning them out (Mike Adams, I'm looking at you), but we need to bring them to the light and show just how little scientific support any of this has. It won't inoculate everyone against these ideas, but hopefully it will provide enough community immunity that they're unable to spread far and wide.

*Christie Wilcox pointed out another great observation on just how implausible this is--that the potential to insert a 8.4kb double-stranded DNA transposon into a 10.8kb single-stranded RNA virus is...not possible. So, yeah, just to add to the ridiculousness of that idea.

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By Mary Mangan (not verified) on 03 Feb 2016 #permalink

Here in Latin America some cranks are starting to say that since no one has died from a zika virus infection, it's not dangerous at all, and that it's only a ploy to promote abortion.

By Cosmicjunkbot (not verified) on 03 Feb 2016 #permalink

What is the evidence that Zika or related viruses cause microencephaly? Or is that just a non-conspiracy theory type unfounded belief?

By Stuart Newman (not verified) on 03 Feb 2016 #permalink

I actually got a few people to believe me that it couldn't be the mosquitoes that were originally saying it could be. Now the TdaP one is another story. Apparently antivaxxers are more thick headed tan anti GMO people

By SullivanThePoop (not verified) on 03 Feb 2016 #permalink

Zika and Microcephaly
The Zika virus outbreak has been linked to both Microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Guillain-Barré Syndrome is an autoimmune disease. Is Microcephaly caused directly by the Zika virus or is it also an autoimmune reaction to the infection?

By Gary Rohrabaugh (not verified) on 03 Feb 2016 #permalink

Stuart, a few lines of evidence. Many mothers of babies born with microcephaly reported symptoms consistent with Zika virus infection while pregnant. Some babies have had Zika virus confirmed to be in their bodies at birth, and at least one deceased baby had it in the brain. Microcephaly cases appear to have risen since the Zika outbreak started in early 2015, so there's a temporal association. Together, it makes for strong circumstantial evidence, but it still needs additional support, as I mentioned in my post yesterday (

Gary, we don't know. Even for better-studied viruses like CMV and rubella, we don't know the exact mechanism by which they cause microcephaly.

Brazil: 270 of 4,180 suspected microcephaly cases confirmed
"Researchers have been looking at 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly reported since October. On Wednesday, officials said they had done a more intense analysis of more than 700 of those cases, confirming 270 cases and ruling out 462 others."
"Brazilian officials said the babies with the defect and their mothers are being tested to see if they had been infected. Six of the 270 confirmed microcephaly cases were found to have the virus. Two were stillborn and four were live births, three of whom later died, the ministry said."…

By S. Englert (not verified) on 03 Feb 2016 #permalink

S., indeed. The problem with testing babies after the fact, though, is that we have no idea how long Zika lingers in the body. Since this would be done many months after the mother's infection, it's not surprising that very few babies would test positive, even if their mothers experienced infection. This is why we need longitudinal studies in real time, as I mentioned in my previous post (linked above).

Dr. Raju, can you send me the full text of that article? From the abstract, I don't think it's relevant--for one, a keyword is the whole cell DPT vaccine, which is not what's used anymore. aetiology at gmail dot com.

With 25,000 cases of microcephaly diagnosed in the United States each year, shouldn't the World Health Organization declare an emergency here? The numbers are much higher than in Brazil.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 03 Feb 2016 #permalink

In the US, most causes of microcephaly aren't determined or aren't known, so there's not an epidemic due to a single cause like we're possibly seeing in Latin America. When we did have an epidemic due to a viral cause, there was work to get a vaccine, which did greatly decrease birth defects due to that virus (rubella).

Tara, may I post a link to your blog in comments for CBC articles on Zika? The same nonsense keeps coming up time after time, so I'm on the lookout for good "one stop answers all" sites. I'm a bit reluctant to post a link because it may bring you a flood of kooks.
Here's a recent article with a bunch of typical comments from the kooks and a few trying to battle the nonsense:…

It's OK. I'm used to kooks--it's one reason I moderate comments. Link away.

With about 4 million live births in the U.S. annually, one of these microcephaly estimates must be wrong:
"Annually, approximately 25,000 infants in the United States will be diagnosed with microcephaly."
"Microcephaly is not a common condition. State birth defects tracking systems have estimated that microcephaly ranges from 2 babies per 10,000 live births to about 12 babies per 10,000 live births in the Unites States."

By S. Englert (not verified) on 03 Feb 2016 #permalink

I think there is reasonable doubt about whether the microcephaly surge is actually a surge. The bit of Englert’s post above which is important:

“Researchers have been looking at 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly reported since October. On Wednesday, officials said they had done a more intense analysis of more than 700 of those cases, confirming 270 cases and ruling out 462 others.”

***If*** the reported cases do come down by a similar proportion on closer inspection (<40% confirmed), then microcephaly cases aren’t too far above the normal range. 40% of 4180 = 1800. With 3 million annual births in Brazil, and going with the US CDC’s upper bound of 12 per 10,000 live births, you’d expect up to 3600 a year. For cases “reported since October” I think you could easily be looking at 6 months worth of data, maybe more. So 1800 isn’t necessarily anything out of the ordinary.

I mean, it could be – “since October” could mean 3 or fewer months, and there might be a higher proportion of cases to be confirmed, but on the present data I don’t think it’s wrong to be cautious about whether there’s a microcephaly epidemic.

Magpie, indeed. I touched on that in my previous post regarding unanswered questions about Zika.

I did a quick google on the professor, and while he is a proper PhD, it is in architecture and physics. OTOH am I a humble BSc EE and that has never stopped me :) Anyway. He seem to make a bundle of premature assumptions. Ie we do not even know IF there is an epidemy. Also: If the vaccines were causing it, then we would se a more even spread of cases all over Brazil. It would be interesting though if someone that knows more about epidemiology would take the time to read it through and comment.

By Anders Gustafsson (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

He's claiming they vaccinate pregnant women with MMR. I can't believe they'd do that, as it's contraindicated in pregnancy specifically because it does contain live (though attenuated) rubella virus. He's also assuming a lot about the surveillance that's not clear, as far as its accuracy. His links about MMR in pregnancy go to a page discussing the MMR for children, not pregnant women. He also says Brazil used a live(?) DTP vaccine, when everything else I've found say they use the DTaP by Glaxo-Smith-Kline. So yeah, none of this appears to be credible.

Does anyone know when vaccines are/were administered to expectant mothers in Brazil? Some reports indicate that Brazilian health officials recommended that the Tdap vaccine be given to women between the 27th week and 36th week of their pregnancies, while other reports indicate the vaccine was administered between the 18th and 22nd week.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

Tara, I've seen some comments from credible people on Daily Kos* saying that Zika is widespread in a number of other countries (Colombia, one or two in Central America, and one in the Pacific Islands) but that there have not been cases of microcephaly associated with Zika infection in those countries.

Is that true? Any hypotheses? BTW thanks for staying on top of this.

(If it's true I'm inclined to think there is either genetic variation in the Zika virus or some kind of local co-factor, both of those being "safe" hypotheses.)

Magpie @ 20: interesting. If that's true, then Brazil could be seeing reporting artifacts combined with a purely coincidental cluster of cases, or perhaps a slight increase due to some other factor. Are there any scientists working on these angles?

Re. abortion-related conspiracy theories: I can't help but think that if Zika is the singular direct cause here, the expected Zika pandemic in the Americas is going to force the abortion issue. This because the alternative is to bankrupt the health systems in some of these countries. My hardcore atheist friends would have something to say about religion-based laws against abortion in the middle of an epidemic of extreme congenital disease.

*Daily Kos is a site for progressive Democrats, and has very strong policies against spreading conspiracy theory ("CT"). Supporting 9/11 CT or anti-vax CT is a bannable offense: people get immediately and permanently kicked off the site for that. We also have a decent number of working scientists, and excellent science coverage.

Lastly, someone needs to get a liaison at FDA, ASAP, and be ready for various quack Zika "remedies" to show up in the usual places, promoted by the usual villains (MIke Adams etc.). A decent sting operation would be in order here, but sending in date/time-stamped screenshots of quack sites will at least get the ball rolling on prosecutions. The point being to squish the quackery as soon as it pops up, and hopefully at the same time shut down various people who are always at the center of that stuff.

Infections are a known case for birth-defects. Zika is an infection, but we do not even have reliable numbers yet. So it is far to early to jump to any conclusions.

By Anders Gustafsson (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

Anders: It appears the news media already has jumped to conclusions, regardless of conclusive scientific evidence.
Another question: If Zika is spread by mosquitos, how has the virus spread so rapidly to other countries since the initial outbreak in northeast Brazil? Mosquitoes lives are short and they don't and can't travel very far.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

G, it's likely a function of surveillance. In the outbreak in French Polynesia, investigators have retrospectively found microcephaly cases that might be related to that epidemic. Brazil had a decent surveillance system already in place and an order of magnitude more cases of Zika, so that probably made the potential link to microcephaly stand out more than in prior outbreaks. It's also been in Brazil longer, as far as we can tell.

Regarding spread, mosquito-borne diseases can travel pretty fast, because although the mosquitoes do not travel particularly far, their hosts do. It only takes one person to seed a new outbreak in a neighboring village or city. Additionally, there is speculation that the World Cup or a big canoe race may have introduced Zika, and participants could have taken it home from there and introduced local outbreaks ( We just can't say for sure right now.

Gates Foundation grant bolsters study of Tdap boosters in pregnant women
Kathryn Edwards, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, has received a $307,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study the immune responses of pregnant women who receive the Tdap (reduced-dose acellular pertussis vaccines combined with tetanus and diphtheria toxoids) vaccine.

The grant, the program’s first from the Gates Foundation, will supplement an ongoing Vanderbilt-led study that is looking at the safety of Tdap boosters in pregnant women. The study is funded by more than $1 million in awards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).…

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

From the insert of GlaxoSmithKline's Tdap vaccine, called BOOSTRIX.

----------------------- USE IN SPECIFIC POPULATIONS -----------

• Safety and effectiveness of BOOSTRIX have not been established in pregnant women. (8.1)
• Register women who receive BOOSTRIX while pregnant in the pregnancy registry by calling 1-888-452-9622. (8.1)

Pregnancy Category B
A developmental toxicity study has been performed in female rats at a dose. Immunosuppressive therapies, including irradiation, antimetabolites, alkylating agents, cytotoxic drugs, and corticosteroids (used in greater than physiologic doses), may reduce the immune response to BOOSTRIX. approximately 40 times the human dose (on a mL/kg basis) and revealed no evidence of harm to the fetus due to BOOSTRIX. Animal fertility studies have not been conducted with BOOSTRIX. There are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women. Because animal reproduction studies are not always predictive of human response, BOOSTRIX should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed.

----------------------- WARNINGS AND PRECAUTIONS------------

• If Guillain-Barré syndrome occurred within 6 weeks of receipt of a prior vaccine containing tetanus toxoid, the risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome may be increased following a subsequent dose of tetanus toxoid- containing vaccine, including BOOSTRIX. (5.2)

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

Tom, I linked that in the post. Is there something you want to say about it?

S. Englert, is there something you want to discuss with that study, especially with regard to the link in the post noting yet another large study finding the vaccine is safe during pregnancy? And surely you know the legalese that goes into vaccine inserts, correct? Plus, Guillain-Barré syndrome can be triggered by just about any infection or vaccine. It's most noted with Campylobacter infections, and has also been seen in a good number of people following influenza.

Tara: I've just been reading the Tdap vaccine disclosure statements and research or lack thereof. The CDC website says "The whooping cough vaccine is very safe for you and your unborn baby," while the product information inserts at the FDA website say: "Safety and effectiveness of Adacel and BOOSTRIX have not been established in pregnant women." The contradiction is amplified by the research underway at the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, which is being conducted with CDC funds seemingly to support the CDC safety claims. Effectiveness of immunity transfer to fetuses apparently hasn't been established, considering the Gates Foundation grant to VVRP last July.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

Tara: I've attempted to get an interview with Dr. Kathryn Edwards, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, but she hasn't responded to my questions. Maybe she will provide you with the latest results of the Tdap research and address the contradictions in the "safety" claims for expectant mothers.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

The reason the vaccine is recommended in pregnancy is an epidemiological one: it's been shown that babies whose mothers receive this are less likely to develop pertussis than those whose mothers didn't, and if they do contract it, they're less likely to die from it. The Gates-funded study is building on that evidence, to determine the exact mechanisms that are most protective. This is a completely normal progression of science, not some shadowy conspiracy. And I mentioned with the inserts, it's legalese, like all the small print at the bottom of any contract you sign. The FDA makes the vaccine companies include any information at all that may be informative to the person receiving it, even if it's not actually scientifically justified (for example, reports of adverse events following vaccination, even if it's not established that there is a cause-effect relationship).

There aren't any contradictions in safety claims. You are misunderstanding.

The legalese in the product disclosure statements is that the "safety and effectiveness (of Tdap) have not been established in pregnant women," while the non-legalese on the CDC website says: "The whooping cough vaccine is very safe for you and your unborn baby." To me, that's a contradiction, even if it's not scientifically justified. : )

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

Based on product disclosures, Adacel and Boostrix both are Category B drugs, according to the FDA, meaning: "Animal reproduction studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women."

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

Interesting to note:
FDA's Category A:
"Adequate and well-controlled studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus in the first trimester of pregnancy (and there is no evidence of risk in later trimesters)."

Therefore, as a Category B drug, Tdap has been tested on animals, but not adequately on humans. Hence, the ongoing research at Vanderbilt.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

Tara, re. 35: Thanks, that makes sense, I'll spread that information where the issue comes up. (I see what else happened here shortly after you posted 35; my heart goes out to you for the patience you have about those, though I'm inclined to think some of them are not treatable with facts.)

More Zika disinformation on the local news tonight:

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -The mosquito-borne Zika virus known to cause birth defects is expected to spread across the world, said Channel 4 news anchor Tracy Kornet.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 04 Feb 2016 #permalink

G@30: I think WHO might have jumped the gun a bit. People are definitely working on it, and the epidemiological data is going to come through as a matter of course. The PHEIC announcement has got resources moving there, which is great, but if we get a non-event with the microcephaly it’s going to dent WHO’s credibility pretty badly, perhaps damaging our response to the next outbreak.

It’s not fair, of course. WHO never said the world was coming to an end, however much folk at home might have interpreted it as that. WHO are doing their jobs. Waiting for more data and delaying action in the early stages of a serious event (as this may well be!) would be immensely damaging to the response. People are still cranky about the flu pandemic in ’09, but the start of a wussy pandemic (as that one was) looks exactly the same as the start of a bad one. What do you want them to do? Wait until a million people are dead?

As I said elsewhere: it’s like complaining that firefighters don’t do anything useful, because every time there’s a fire they put it out. See? Fires don’t ever do much damage, so firefighters obviously overreact! And here they go again with their attention seeking sirens and flashing lights. Pfff. What a bunch of show ponies…

With regard to the notion of a patent on the Zika virus:

I can say with considerable confidence that no country was granting patents on viruses in 1947.
I don't know when the first sale of the virus was made, and I'm not entirely certain of the applicable patent regulations, but in general, if you sell something before you apply for a patent you blow any chance of getting a patent.

Tara, excellent article, as you always do. The article published in Ecological lacks scientific basis. They will need something more than an obscure hypothesis to make science. I have an additional argument. The piggyBac used by Oxitec to transform the mosquitoes was deleted from transgenic lines, just as an strategy to avoid furthers "jumps". In the construct used for transformation of the mosquitoes the transposase gene of the piggyBac element was irreversibly destroyed by deletion of a section of that gene. Transformation is effected by introducing with the transforming construct a helper plasmid that supplies transposase activity but is itself unable to transpose into other DNA. One of ITR’s that flank the wild type piggyBac transposase has been removed in the helper plasmid so that the helper plasmid cannot, itself integrate, even though it encodes for the active transposase. So, the helper plasmid is not present in the modified mosquitoes, neither the piggyBac.
The technology developed by Oxitec is promissory for control of Aedes aegypti.
It is a shame that assumptions are published without scientific evidence. Real scientists can easily refute these garbage papers, but the common citizen would be alarmed. Then, a promising method could be cast down. This would be a great loss to the hopes of a solution to the arboviruses.

By René Gato (not verified) on 05 Feb 2016 #permalink

Whilst I agree with your comments on the GM/Oxitec and Rockefeller conspiracies I do think the DTap vaccine theory should not be dismissed. As far as I am aware Brazilian authorities were vaccinating women at 20 weeks. The boosttix vaccine used was manufactured under licence from GlaxoSmith kline in Brazil and the insert clearly states that safety and effectiveness of Boostrix have not been established in pregnant women. One of the possible side effects listed on the insert is Encephalopathy (…).
As far as I am aware although Zika has spread outside of Brazil so far there have been no confirmed cases of microcephaly. Colombia has at least 2000 pregnant women infected with the virus but no cases of microcephaly. I concede this may be due to the fact the virus has only been circulating in Colombia since late 2015 so cases may not have had time to appear yet. The rumor of the vaccine causing the microcephaly was circulating in Brazil before the link between Zika virus was made. The link is also rather confusing in that the claim is that the virus causes microcephaly if the mother is infected during the first three months of pregnancy. The virus remains in humans for a relatively short period (3-5days). The link with Zika was made by finding the virus in amniotic fluid of babies known to have microcephaly. This is more indicative of a current infection rather than a prior infection that caused the brain damage. It should be relatively easy fot GSM to disprove this theory by providing data on the number of microcephaly cases who's mothers had received the vaccine; as far as I am aware they have not. Although a link has been made between Zika and other neurological disorders in other outbreaks (Micronesia) it has not been specifically stated that microcephaly has been observed.

The main problem with the theory is why are WHO and CDC suggesting the link between ZIka and microcephaly and nolt mentioning the vaccine possibility? One answer to this would be the reduction in parents willing to vaccinate their children as a result of the vaccine causing brain damage.

At present nobody knows for sure what is causing the microcephaly. I am unwilling to discount the vaccine theory until further evidence is available.

Problem with Oxitec theory is virus is RNA whilst mosquito is DNA; can't splice RNA into DNA.

S., here's the problem with looking at it in children with microcephaly only: we have no idea how long the virus persists in the body. Presumably it is short, so while looking at antibodies can be suggestive of a prior infection with Zika, the methods they report in that news article would be expected to find a very low number, even if many babies were indeed infected, because they're using techniques based on the presence of the virus NOW (Zika virus identification in the tissue), rather than potentially months ago. I discussed studies in the previous post on this blog.

Tara: I'm just passing along a news report from Brazil. Not saying I give it any credence. As you know, the media is full of erroneous information on this issue.
Last night, a local news anchor reported that the Zika virus is "known to cause birth defects."…
More fear mongering and hysteria being reported than proven science.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 05 Feb 2016 #permalink

Updated: this doesn’t mean that “Rockefeller owns the patent on Zika virus,” as sites like this are claiming. As far as I can ascertain, there are no patents involving Zika.

All U.S. patents on products of nature were voided in 2013 by Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, in any event.

I've concluded that the way TDap causes microcephaly is that there is an undisclosed ingredient: tachyons! They travel back in time from when they're administered in the third trimester to make microcephaly visible in the second.QED.

Re. Magpie @ 56:

Agreed, everything you said. I'm perfectly happy to have WHO and CDC jumping on every possible infectious disease threat even if occasionally they sound an alarm about something that turns out to be much less of a threat. False positives are inconvenient; false negatives are deadly.

We have got to get ahead of the public with the science on this, and your analogy to firefighters is a good one (instant contagious meme). Otherwise the quacks, cranks, ideologues, etc. will gain the upper hand. BTW, Orac has a column on this today as well.

I'm starting to think that the most likely explanation for the microcephaly outbreak is increased awareness & reporting. But the measures that combat Zika also combat Dengue and chikungunya, so the effort is not wasted even if it turns out that Zika was not the cause.

"I’m starting to think that the most likely explanation for the microcephaly outbreak is increased awareness & reporting. But the measures that combat Zika also combat Dengue and chikungunya, so the effort is not wasted even if it turns out that Zika was not the cause." ----THIS. It could be increased awareness, and if that's the case, this attention should still be beneficial to 1) increase surveillance of this condition and ideally get families the resources they need to help with their children as they grow and 2) increase mosquito control to reduce the vector of Zika (but also other, typically nastier, viruses).

On the patent routine, I'm reminded that an even dumber version accompanied Ebola (another "false flag" operation, of course).

Tara, regarding your comment #24, the report by Plínio Bezerra dos Santos Filho does not at all claim that they vaccinated pregnant women with MMR. He says that this may have happened accidentally but that it was not the norm, and that "I refer to women who became pregnant after being vaccinated." He points out that mycocephaly is a known side effect of Rubella and attributes the mycocephaly to women who were vaccinated with MMR up to 3 months prior to getting pregnant, presumably in response to measles epidemics that followed the World Cup games. He also says that "because of the MMR vaccine in women in the fertile period, cases of microcephaly will continue until nine months after the end of this vaccination, over the initial period of operation of this vaccine in the body of the young, which gives us an effective total of at least 12 months after the vaccine was taken." So, his hypothesis is quite specific meaning that the data will show whether it is plausible or not in time.

Here are his four main points:

"A) The peak number of cases in Pernambuco corresponds to a first trimester of pregnancy between January and April 2015 with microcephalic births. This is due to the vaccination of women of childbearing age against measles with the MMR vaccine containing the live virus rubella . In Ceará , this measles vaccination in women in fertile period with the MMR vaccine continued until mid-April ;

B ) The alarming number of cases that begin to appear in August-October 2015, results in the compulsory microcephaly notification by the Ministry of Health throughout the country . The obligation to notify the Ministry of Health increases the peak and extends the graphical curve around its maximum ;

C ) The cause which led to the peak of cases of microcephaly in November 2015 , the data for Pernambuco, is thin and is replaced today by another fact - the cause, although present in the initial notification, was hardly evident. In November 2014 , the Ministry of Health includes Diptheria,Tetanus and Pertussis prenatal protocol vaccination of pregnant women in the last trimester of pregnancy, from the sixth month of pregnancy .; and

D ) The peak of dengue cases in the state of Pernambuco is between March 20 and April 10, 2015 and would require, by association (since Dengue has the same mosquito vector) a peak in microcephaly charted between late December and early January 2016 - and not in November 2015 as it occured. This, by itself, raises the possibility that the effects of ZIKV-like microcephaly are the minor and not the main cause of microcephaly."

The source that I found for the Tdap vaccine introduction is this one here: "In 2013, 109 pertussis-related deaths were reported [in Brazil]—a number 7-fold higher than the average number of deaths reported annually in the period from 2001 to 2010. More than 80% of the deaths occurred in infants younger than 3 months of age. To address this serious situation, in late 2014, the Ministry of Health announced the introduction of the Tdap vaccine for all pregnant women in Brazil. Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Israel, New Zealand, and Belgium—among other countries—also implemented maternal vaccination programs for pertussis during pregnancy, following the examples from the US and the UK."

By M. Gendereaux (not verified) on 05 Feb 2016 #permalink

Hi, Tara, I was shocked to read GMO mosquitoes were released in wild and may be related to the spreading of Zika virus. is it published in science journal? A similar story I read was the the growing GMO crops has forced bugs migrating to cities, bedbug is big concern now.

So like many science deniers, he’s taking the parts of the research that fit his biases (look at how toxic Brazil is! Of course it’s causing health problems in babies!) and ignoring the parts he doesn’t–that if there is an increase in microcephaly, Zika might be a driving force.

That sentence does not parse well. Otherwise, excellent post!

By August Pamplona (not verified) on 06 Feb 2016 #permalink…
"Of the (1,113) cases examined so far (from 4,783 reported)
404 have been confirmed as having microcephaly."
17 of those 404, tested positive with Zika."
"Another 709 babies have been ruled out as having microcephaly."
The remaining 3,670 cases are still being investigated."[FEB.4]

From 1113 evaluated, 404 are confirmed cases of microcephaly.
17 of those 404 are confirmed with zika - a common virus not known beforehand to cause microcephaly.
So, 387 cases have no forensic connection to Zika at time of evaluation.
If we minus the 150 annual Brazilian microcephaly norm. from 404 total cases, there appears to be a 254 case spike in microcephaly so far this year.
If we minus 17 ID’d with zika, there are 237 cases with no forensic link to zika,
clearly ‘outside the norm.’

what other factors are 'co-incident' to the women concerned, during their pregnancy ?

By rogermorris (not verified) on 07 Feb 2016 #permalink

@rogermorris Hopefully, Tara will explore the "other factors" in a future blog post.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 07 Feb 2016 #permalink

Obama asking Congress for emergency funding to combat Zika
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus. In an announcement Monday, the White House said the money would be used to expand mosquito control programs, speed development of a vaccine, develop diagnostic tests and improve support for low-income pregnant women.

Zika virus disease is mainly spread by mosquitoes. Most people who catch it experience mild or no symptoms. But mounting evidence (What is the mounting scientific evidence?) from Brazil suggests that infection in pregnant women is linked to abnormally small heads in their babies — a birth defect called microcephaly.
“What we now know is that there appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women and women who are thinking about having a baby,” Obama said in an interview aired Monday on “CBS This Morning.”
The White House said that as spring and summer approach, the U.S. must prepare to quickly address local transmission with the continental U.S. Obama added, however, that “there shouldn’t be a panic on this.” (Who is creating panic?)

By S. Englert (not verified) on 08 Feb 2016 #permalink

rogermorris, as noted, first we have to clearly establish a "spike" in microcephaly. If not from Zika, there are other pathogens which could also cause it. Carl Zimmer has a nice overview today, along with some reasons why some of the Zika-negative babies may still have been affected by Zika (hint: we need good longitudinal studies and not just sampling done at birth)…

@S. Englert at 19
While you were considering that 25 000 number, did you find a source for it? It turns up in a paper published in Neurology, but no single source is cited for it. As you have found looking at other sources, 25 000 looks to be high by a factor of anywhere from 5 to at least 50.

The kookosphere, notably the always-dim Rappoport, has glommed onto the 25 000.


This Foundation for Children with Microcephaly says "Microcephaly affects more than 25,000 infants & children in the United States alone each year."

As does this American Academy of Neurology article:

However, the CDC says "State birth defects tracking systems have estimated that microcephaly ranges from 2 babies per 10,000 live births to about 12 babies per 10,000 live births in the United States."

With about 2 million live births in the U.S. annually, that would put the number of microcephaly cases at 800 to 4,800 annually.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 08 Feb 2016 #permalink

Here's a published report with the 25,000 microcephaly number.

Rappoport isn't the only individual reporting the 25,000 figure, so have mainstream media such as the BBC, New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, USA Today, The Washington Post, etc.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 08 Feb 2016 #permalink

Yes, that's the paper I was looking at. On closer reading, I see that the paper's Reference 9, Dolk H. The predictive value of microcephaly during the first year of life for mental retardation at seven years. Dev Med Child Neurol 1991;33:974 –983., appears to be at least the meta source. Alas, my access privileges mean I have to go chasing off the my alma mater's library to get access to it.

This document, has some useful numbers, all well below prevalence of 25k per 4M births.

I am hearing rumours that nurses in clinics in rural areas of Brazil have been giving the tdap vaccine as soon as mothers come into the clinic around 12-14 weeks of pregnancy. Is there a mechanism by which the vaccine could cause microcephaly I'd given so early?

Note that it has not been determined what is causing microcephaly in Brazilian babies, regardless what the media and even some health agencies have been claiming. As such, various people and/or groups have been putting forth alternative theories which in a few cases seem to be more plausible than the Zika virus, given current evidence. Of more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly in Brazil, in how many have they found Zika virus in the mother? Six. That's right, six.

Your claim that the other theories are not compatible with each-other makes no sense, why would they be expected to be compatible with each-other. We do not know what is causing this microcephaly, so arguing that alternative theories must somehow be compatible is a logical fallacy.

You dismiss the notion that this could have something to do with pesticides, ignoring the long line of evidence showing that pesticide exposure can be a catalyst and even cause for many different neurological conditions. One of the pesticides in use in Brazil is atrazine:

Urinary biomarkers of prenatal atrazine exposure and adverse birth outcomes in the PELAGIE birth cohort.

"The presence versus absence of quantifiable levels of atrazine or a specific atrazine metabolite was associated with fetal growth restriction [odds ratio (OR) = 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.0-2.2] and small head circumference for sex and gestational age (OR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0-2.7)."

Then you dismiss the idea that the tdap vaccine, which was just recently introduced for Brazilian women in 2014, could have anything to do with this, based on the fact that these women were vaccinated late in their pregnancies. Why do you assume that the timing of exposure for tdap, which is a combined vaccine of inactive antigens, would need to be early in pregnancy similar to other known viral causes of microcephaly like rubella or CMV? Also, note that there is even a case report of an infant being diagnosed with microcephaly following DPT vaccination:

Atypical vanishing white matter disease with microcephaly and hepatosplenomegaly provoked after diphtheria pertussis tetanus vaccination…

So why couldn't tdap be involved here simply because its given late in pregnancy?

One very valid question you raise is the fact that we are not seeing this same rate of microcephaly in other countries where they give the tdap vaccine to pregnane women. First, you should be aware that GSK has a technology transfer agreement with Brazil which allows them to manufacture the tdap vaccine locally, so that is one possible explanation for the localized impact of this vaccine.

Now we are getting reports that Dr. Pliny Bezerra dos Santos Filho, PhD conducted research and signed complaint with the Attorney General, claiming that women in Brazil were given MMR vaccine and that some of these women then became pregnant and gave birth to babies with microcephaly. This is interesting given that many of these women report having unexplained rashes during their pregnancies. It is well known that exposure to rubella virus can cause microcephaly, so if this is true this definitely warrants further investigation.

Also, it really is possible that there are several influencing factors which somehow combine to create a perfect storm for Brazil. It is well known that pesticides can act as a catalyst for neurological damage by another agent by facilitating transport of that agent across the blood-brain-barrier.

This is all just theory. But so is everything else right now, including the Zika virus. So before we develop a new vaccine and inject the multitudes with it, can we first try to figure out just what is causing this problem?

By David Foster (not verified) on 09 Feb 2016 #permalink…
Zika virus: Brazilian survey calls into question cause of microcephaly. By Norman Swan
"A four-year survey of more than 100,000 newborn babies in north-eastern Brazil has uncovered hitherto unrecognized patterns of microcephaly.
The discovery suggests microcephaly is not necessarily a new phenomenon, and questions whether Zika virus is even the cause." "If it is Zika virus, it has been in Brazil for a lot longer than people have thought, but that does not explain why after 50 years Zika has only now been linked to microcephaly."

By rogermorris (not verified) on 09 Feb 2016 #permalink

@rogermorris Great find. Reasonable logic.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 09 Feb 2016 #permalink

David, the 6 Zika cases are old data. They're finding more, but do you understand that finding conclusive evidence of Zika infection at birth or after is unlikely? The virus doesn't stay in the body for that long typically, so finding live virus or molecular evidence of such (by PCR) is going to be very low. Even serology can be difficult, because we don't know how long Zika-specific antibodies remain, and there is potential for cross-reaction with other flaviviruses. So those numbers don't surprise me, nor do they rule out an association with Zika. That's why I mentioned in my prior post that we need rigorous longitudinal studies to examine women during pregnancy to collect signs/symptoms of Zika infection as well as samples to determine if it really is Zika or not. These studies are not easy nor are they cheap.

The problem with the conspiracy theories being mutually exclusive is that many in the fringes are already promoting several of them simultaneously. And as you may imagine, they're not presenting them as merely theories.

Re pesticides, you run into the same issues as with vaccines. Pesticides are not unique to Brazil, and even in the paper you cite, the increased OR is very small and those risks are not statistically significant. Again, not convincing.

The issue with timing during pregnancy is because we know that most exposures that adversely affect brain development occur early on. If even live, neurotropic viruses like CMV and rubella are only risky early in the pregnancy, then biologically it makes no sense that mere proteins given at a single time point to the mother would have an exacerbated effect when given well after the point of critical brain development. (Have you taken courses in developmental biology as a systems engineer?) And again, your reference does not support your case once again, as it's using a very different vaccine preparation (whole cell DPT) and is a mere case study. There is no evidence that the vaccine was causal. I'll also note that's from a journal that's not indexed in PubMed and though I asked previously in this thread, no one has been able to provide me with a full text of that publication.

Finally, I have also seen the MMR rumor but via reputable contacts in the county have not been able to verify any such thing. It's certainly being investigated though, but I remain skeptical of that given all that's found on it is just more rumor and conspiracy at this time.

@Tara Maybe be no need or time for rigorous longitudinal studies.
MIT claims to have gene-snipping technology that can eradicate the mosquito species that transmits Zika. “Technologically, we could probably do it in a couple of years,” researcher Kevin Esvelt says. “I’m sure we’ll be able to do it before people can agree if we should.”…

By S. Englert (not verified) on 10 Feb 2016 #permalink

I’ll also note that’s from a journal that’s not indexed in PubMed and though I asked previously in this thread, no one has been able to provide me with a full text of that publication.

"Received 21 August 2014 | Accepted 21 August 2014"

Good catch.

With the original item finally to hand, it appears that their content management system is merely broken:

Received 15 October 2013
Revised 24 January 2014
Accepted 6 February 2014

I am just amazed that anyone posting on science blogs expects people to actually come here for objective, unbiased information on anything. The level of condescension and therefore bias here is beyond belief. How can I take any writer seriously as representing objectivity and reason who starts off their article with, "Like cockroaches, the conspiracy theorists suggesting the Zika virus outbreak is anything but a normal, naturally-occurring event have begun to come out of the woodwork." ????

By M. Gendereaux (not verified) on 13 Feb 2016 #permalink

Many of the people linked in the post have a history of profiting off of anti-science sentiments. Like cockroaches, when exposed to the light, their conspiracies wither, but they also never completely die. Sure I'm biased. I follow the evidence, not a bunch of rumor-mongering profiteers.

How can I take any writer seriously as representing objectivity....

I doubt that I'm the only one who interprets such purest tone-trolling from what seems to be a dedicated pseudonym as anything but but "representing objectivity."

Is there somthing "objective" you'd like to raise? Please commit to not running away before anyone wastes their time.

^ "anything but but"

call them 'co-incidence theories' then.…
"The Physicians commented: “Malformations detected in thousands of children from pregnant women living in areas where the Brazilian state added Pyriproxyfen to drinking water are not a coincidence, even though the Ministry of Health places a direct blame on the Zika virus for this damage.”

They also noted that Zika has traditionally been held to be a relatively benign disease that has never before been associated with birth defects, even in areas where it infects 75% of the population.
Pyriproxyfen is a relatively new introduction to the Brazilian environment; the microcephaly increase is a relatively new phenomenon. So the larvicide seems a plausible causative factor in microcephaly – far more so than GM mosquitoes, which some have blamed for the Zika epidemic and thus for the birth defects. There is no sound evidence to support the notion promoted by some sources that GM mosquitoes can cause Zika, which in turn can cause microcephaly. In fact, out of 404 confirmed microcephaly cases in Brazil, only 17 (4.2%) tested positive for the Zika virus.
Brazilian health experts agree Pyriproxyfen is chief suspect
The Argentine Physicians’ report, which also addresses the Dengue fever epidemic in Brazil, concurs with the findings of a separate report on the Zika outbreak by the Brazilian doctors’ and public health researchers’ organisation, Abrasco.[2]"

By rogermorris (not verified) on 14 Feb 2016 #permalink

None of those are peer-reviewed or from credible sources. The Ecologist I quoted above re the GMO mosquitoes. Seems they haven't met a conspiracy theory they don't like.

So the larvicide seems a plausible causative factor in microcephaly

Except for the part where humans don't have sesquiterpenoid hormones, as I've already noted here.

Between the panic-driven propaganda and conspiracy-denouncing debunkers, credible sources are as rare as scientific evidence and peer-reviewed studies. Cockroaches proliferate on both sides of the Zika hysteria, fueled by unfounded fears and pursuit of research money and corporate profits. Meanwhile, truth is obscure among the clouds of insecticide sprayed by men in hazmat suits surrounded by shoeless Brazilian children. If enough pesticide and vaccine is applied, surely something will live or die. In the meantime, never let a crisis go to waste as Rahm Emanuel suggests.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 14 Feb 2016 #permalink

In the meantime, never let a crisis go to waste as Rahm Emanuel suggests.

Or an opportunity for stream-of-consciousness prose, apparently. Would you care to get back to the whole PPF/"corporate U.S. media" disaster?

@Narad Sure! As you know, the mainstream media, emboldened by WHO's "public health emergency" declaration, is creating hysteria by repeatedly reporting a "link" between Zika and microcephaly without any conclusive scientific evidence while publicizing President Obama's $1.8 billion request for "emergency" funds to fight Zika and the CDC's move to "its highest alert level." Every "crisis" is fed by media frenzy and requires a government funding response.…

By S. Englert (not verified) on 15 Feb 2016 #permalink

Several responses showing the larvicide is very unlikely to play a role in this:…

S. Englert, no need to use quotes anymore for link. Have you been following the new papers out just in the last week? The link is most certainly there. Conclusive, maybe not yet, but we have an increasing amount of evidence every day that Zika really is causing microcephaly.

@ Tara
I use quote marks to indicate words used by health authorities and the media.
The myopic, spoon-fed mainstream media requires no scientific evidence, confirmed by longitudinal and peer-reviewed studies, to report a "link" between Zika and birth defects. The corporate media often reports as if the science has been settled, whether it has been or not, though nary mentions other "suggestive," "casual" or "suspected" causes of microcephaly.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 15 Feb 2016 #permalink

Meanwhile, in Columbia, Zika has become a matter of life or death.
Ms. Barrios says her doctors offered to perform an abortion, even though there is no evidence that the babies she is carrying have microcephaly. “The doctor asked me if I might be ready to have two deformed children,” she said. “How do you tell a mother that?”
Vanesa, a 28-year-old woman in the coastal city of Barranquilla, said she decided to end her pregnancy after she contracted Zika. An ultrasound showed what doctors said could be a deformity, possibly microcephaly.
“I cried a lot,” said Vanesa, who asked that her full name be withheld because she did not want others to know she had an abortion. “We are Catholics, and we prayed to God. We decided not to have the baby.”
The issue is all the more complex because the scientific link between Zika and microcephaly in infants has not been proved. International health officials say the connection is “strongly suspected,” but they warn that it may take months to know for sure.…

By S. Englert (not verified) on 15 Feb 2016 #permalink

"increasing amounts of evidence every day that zika really is causing microcephaly" begs the critical science question :

'What caused microcephaly in the zika?'
Those scientists involved must identify and investigate ALL forensics present during 'causal" or triggering period transmogrifying the genetic code of Zika, a previously more-or-less benign Zika, into a global microcephaly epidemic in pregnant women.
What external materiel factors existed at the time of transmogrification?

By rogermorris (not verified) on 15 Feb 2016 #permalink

What external materiel factors existed at the time of transmogrification?

What "transmogrification"? There's a bottleneck imposed by the host–vector–host cycle, which, from what I've read, point to purifying selection. The options naively look like either enhanced viremia or enhanced transmissibility, with only the former leading to enhanced virulence. Try doing your own homework rather than tossing word salads about what other people "must" do.

^ "points to"

Sure! As you know, the mainstream media, emboldened by WHO’s “public health emergency” declaration, is creating hysteria by repeatedly reporting a “link” between Zika and microcephaly without any conclusive scientific evidence while publicizing President Obama’s $1.8 billion request for “emergency” funds to fight Zika and the CDC’s move to “its highest alert level.”

"Emboldened"? Whatever. Perhaps you should look for better media sources.

Certainly better than crank alterno-media such as regurgitated "GM Watch" items in "The Ecologist" and regurgitated items from Natural News in "EcoWatch."

^ The scope of the blockquote fail, I hope, is obvious.

@ Narad I explored the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy website and found no articles offering conclusive scientific evidence that the Zika virus alone causes microcephaly, though I expect some of the academics and researchers whose papers are "linked" ; ) at the site will apply for federal grants to validate such a link.
The discussion at the bottom of this article provides some insightful comments and probing questions:

By S. Englert (not verified) on 15 Feb 2016 #permalink

Great read from WHO Bulletin: "Many other potential factors need to be considered as the cause of the outbreak. Among them figures the possibility of boosting effects from associated infections, perhaps even viral infections, such as DENV and CHIKV, both carried by the same Aedes aegypti vector. Also to be considered is teratogens exposure, such as vaccines or drugs used in early pregnancy.(1,2) Further, malnutrition, which has previously been associated to microcephaly, could have an intensifying effect when coupled with other aetiological factors. Indeed, most of the reported cases have occurred in low-income families."

By S. Englert (not verified) on 15 Feb 2016 #permalink

@ Narad I explored the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy website and found no articles offering conclusive scientific evidence that the Zika virus alone causes microcephaly, though I expect some of the academics and researchers whose papers are “linked” ; ) at the site will apply for federal grants to validate such a link.
The discussion at the bottom of this article provides some insightful comments and probing questions []

Yes, I already follow Vincent Racaniello. What does any of what you wrote have to do with what I wrote?

@ Narad I explored the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy website and found no articles offering conclusive scientific evidence that the Zika virus alone causes microcephaly

So, is CIDRAP or is it not "mainstream media"? I note that you have completely ignored the "crank alterno-media" part.

Put the goalposts back where they were.

^ Yah, fractured parellelism.

I can't disagree about the need for homework. Will get onto it immediately. Meantime, briefly, how does " either enhanced viremia or enhanced transmissibility, with only the former leading to enhanced virulence" relate to zika virus suddenly being able to cause microcephaly? If it hadn't before? Enhanced? Whats with 'enhanced'...

By rogermorris (not verified) on 16 Feb 2016 #permalink

@ Narad
Appears some of the sources and stories posted at CIDRAP have a similar reporting approach or symbiotic relationship with the mainstream media, following parallel paths and disseminating potentially false narratives and fear as well as the alt "crank" media that you malign.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 16 Feb 2016 #permalink

Zika is "the No. 1 suspect in what appears to be a startling increase in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an underdeveloped brain and head, as well as the paralyzing nerve condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome," according to NBC News.
The story makes no mention of the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 suspects or statistics supporting "what appears to be a startling increases in cases of microcephaly."…

By S. Englert (not verified) on 16 Feb 2016 #permalink

Rogermorris@127: In this case "enhanced" means more generally "increased". Increased viremia means more viruses in the blood. "Enhanced transmissibility" means "more easily spread", which could happen at many points in the transmission cycle.

"Enhanced" might be an unfortunate word because it has both technical meaning and a slightly different common meaning which implies directed change. That's not how it is being used here.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 16 Feb 2016 #permalink

Zika is “the No. 1 suspect in what appears to be a startling increase in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an underdeveloped brain and head, as well as the paralyzing nerve condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome,” according to NBC News.
The story makes no mention of the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 suspects or statistics supporting “what appears to be a startling increases in cases of microcephaly.”

I suggest writing an indignant letter to NBC News rather than flogging your free-floating "MSM"/TWOOF routine here.

Meantime, briefly, how does ” either enhanced viremia or enhanced transmissibility, with only the former leading to enhanced virulence” relate to zika virus suddenly being able to cause microcephaly? If it hadn’t before? Enhanced? Whats with ‘enhanced’…

JustaTech pretty much covered it, but the idea is that the Asian lineage, with a whole lot of virgin soil on the menu, is finally getting a chance to really settle into its new reservoir, viz., people.

The more of itself that it can produce in the bloodstream, the more likely it is be transmitted, which is Job #1. It doesn't need to mutate a lot, since transmission has been going OK so far, but tinkering around the edges is going to happen. This pretty much comes from one recent paper, though.

It's mentioned in here (PDF), along with more context.

Re: comment #103, Tara and Nared: if you are truly objective, let the science and rationale stand on its own. Condescension detracts from your otherwise worthwhile points. I understand putting others down here is the cultural norm, but it does nothing to advance anything.

I have no position on any of this. I suspend any conclusion while looking at different forms of evidence, but find it challenging to take anything on this site seriously given how vicious the cultural climate is here. The way that Tara Smith deliberately misrepresented Plínio Bezerra dos Santos Filho's work is illustrative of this bias.

By M. Gendereaux (not verified) on 16 Feb 2016 #permalink

@#130. Thank you. And, IF it is 'Zika', then the virus IS "enhanced" - 'made more virulent.' An 'enhancement' - naturally or by malpractice - has recently taken place, 'altering' the virus behaviour to allegedly cause hundreds of cases of serious deformities in babies it, as a virus - was not previously associated with. So, I'd guess both usages apply.

By rogermorris (not verified) on 16 Feb 2016 #permalink

And, IF it is ‘Zika’, then the virus IS “enhanced” – ‘made more virulent.’

Oh, no, these are different things. Offhand (i.e., I happen to have the window open), I'd suggest giving this a whirl.

I have no position on any of this. I suspend any conclusion while looking at different forms of evidence, but find it challenging to take anything on this site seriously given how vicious the cultural climate is here. The way that Tara Smith deliberately misrepresented Plínio Bezerra dos Santos Filho’s work is illustrative of this bias.

Way to blow the attempted tone-trolling cover.

In addition to birth defects and unfounded science, Zika has been "linked" to biting condescension and invasive blog trolling. The mutating virus is in virulent in every sense of the word.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 17 Feb 2016 #permalink

Could chemicals — rather than the Zika virus — be to blame for birth defects in Brazil?
While authorities still can't definitively make a causal link between Zika and microcephaly, they have reiterated that the evidence -- including the presence of the virus in amniotic fluid and the strong geographic and temporal correlation between the cases and infections -- is strong and it's growing. The theory that pyriproxyfen is the cause, however, has no scientific basis, they said.
Still, at least one Brazilian state is taking the paper seriously enough to suspend its use of the chemical. Rio Grande do Sul Health Secretary Joao Gabbardo said that the "suspicion" of a correlation is enough, according to teleSUR, a pan–Latin American TV station sponsored by various governments. "We cannot run that risk," Gabbardo said.…

By S. Englert (not verified) on 17 Feb 2016 #permalink

WHO backs GM mosquitoes & bacteria to fight Zika virus
“Given the magnitude of the Zika crisis, WHO encourages affected countries…to boost the use of both old and new approaches to mosquito control as the most immediate line of defense,” the agency said in a statement.
WHO experts also said they recommended evaluating newer tools, including a genetically modified prototype mosquito, Reuters reported. An alternative approach uses Wolbachia bacteria, which do not infect humans but cause the eggs of infected females to fail to hatch instead. Mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia have already been released to reduce dengue. The WHO said that large-scale field trials would be initiated soon.

By S. Englert (not verified) on 17 Feb 2016 #permalink