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Zika: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet

Zika: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet

Zika is here to stay, says Dr. Alan Lockwood, emeritus professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY and a senior scientist at Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington DC. He is the author of The Silent Epidemic and the forthcoming Heat Advisory. Heat Advisory details how climate change is affecting public health, including the increased range of mosquitos carrying the Zika virus, and in this post Dr. Lockwood reflects on the recent discovery of mosquitos carrying the virus found in a small section of Miami.

Hardly a day goes by without another news story about the Zika virus. This is a relatively new virus. It was first identified in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947. Originally confined to tropical areas in Africa and Asia, it spread across the Pacific Ocean reaching epidemic levels in the Americas during the last year. Most infections with the virus are mild and may not be noticed. However, after a large number of children with microcephaly were born to Brazilian mothers who had been infected with the virus the fear of this virus rose dramatically. Although these initial reports were treated with the level of caution that is typical of scientists, there is now little doubt that Zika virus infection may cause microcephalus. The relatively recent detailed publication of the brain pathology associated with Zika-induced microcephaly provided additional convincing evidence for the link. The Zika-infected brain was much smaller than normal, malformed, and contained many focal calcifications, evidence of prior injury by the virus. Current research also suggests that Zika virus may cause Gullian Barré Syndrome in adults. This poorly understood but relatively rare disorder is the result of immunological attacks on nerve cells and may occur after a variety of diseases.