2. Microcephaly Cases Vastly Over-Reported
The Brazilian government has already admitted that overly generous parameters resulted in dramatic over-reporting of the rare condition public health officials have associated with the Zika virus, which has been dubbed by the media as the “shrunken head” virus.
To be on the safe side, when Zika-affected areas began seeing a rise in microcephaly, the Brazilian government asked health officials to report any case in which a child was born with a head circumference smaller than 33 centimeters.
False positives were expected, and when they realized that most of these babies were in fact healthy and normal, the threshold was lowered to 32 centimeters in December. The limit may be lowered even further, to 31.9 centimeters for boys and 31.5 centimeters for girls.
As reported by The New York Times:4
“Of the cases examined so far, 404 have been confirmed as having microcephaly. Only 17 of them tested positive for the Zika virus…
Another 709 babies have been ruled out as having microcephaly … underscoring the risks of false positives making the epidemic appear larger than it actually is. The remaining 3,670 cases are still being investigated.” [Emphasis mine]
As noted by The New York Times, there’s actually very little scientific evidence tying the Zika virus to this particular condition.
Still, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a global health emergency5 on February 1, noting that the “main worry” is the virus’ potential link to microcephaly and subsequent brain damage.
According to WHO, the Zika virus may have infected as many as 4 million people in the Americas, and public health officials in Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador are reportedly all researching the effects of Zika infection in pregnant women.
Poverty, Pollution, and Vitamin Deficiencies May Affect Microcephaly Rates in Brazil
The Zika virus was initially identified in 1947 in Uganda, where it was originally limited to rhesus monkeys. It’s an arbovirus, meaning the disease is transmitted via mosquito, tick or flea bites.
According to ATCC,6 a “global biological materials resource…organization whose mission focuses on the acquisition, authentication, production, preservation, development, and distribution of standard reference microorganisms,” the Zika virus7 — which they sell for about $500 — causes paralysis and death.
In humans, Zika infection typically causes only mild flu-like symptoms, if any, and there does not appear to be any prior evidence suggesting it might cause birth defects.
That certainly doesn’t exclude the possibility, of course, but there are many other factors and co-factors that offer a far more likely and rational explanation for the rise in microcephaly in this area of Brazil, besides Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
Between these factors and the lack of sanitation and widespread vitamin A and zinc deficiency, you already have the basic framework for an increase in poor health outcomes among newborn infants in that area.11
Environmental pollution12,13 and toxic pesticide exposure have been positively linked to a wide array of adverse health effects, including birth defects. When you add all these co-factors together, an increase in microcephaly doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched outcome.
Vitamin A Deficiency Linked to Microcephaly
More importantly, vitamin A deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of microcephaly specifically,20,21 and zinc is known to play an important role in the structure and function of the brain.22
Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists malnutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals as two of the three known risk factors. The third is certain infections during pregnancy, including rubella, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, and others.23
Researchers24 have also noted that microcephaly follows “an apparent autosomal recessive pattern,” and may be the result of a recessed gene.
Atrazine Also Implicated in Microcephaly
The pesticide Atrazine also appears to be a viable culprit. According to research25 published in 2011, small head circumference was listed as a side effect of prenatal Atrazine exposure.
“The most obvious cause of birth defects in this area is direct contact and absorption of pesticides. A study of pesticide use on tomatoes27 in the Northern State of Pernambuco, Brazil, indicates high exposure to pesticide workers and poor application methods which threaten the ecology of the area.
Women washed the pesticide application equipment, generally in the work environment, without protective clothing or without observing the recommended three-fold washing process … Of the women workers, 32% reported being pregnant more than five times … Almost three-quarters of the women (71%) reported miscarriages, and 11% reported having mentally and/or physically impaired offspring.”