By Dr. Mercola
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $622 million to fight Zika virus, which some believe may be associated with suspected cases of the birth defect microcephaly. That money was intended to get U.S. health agencies through the end of September.
Now the House has passed a $1.1 billion Zika funding bill, which still falls short of the $1.9 billion the White House had called for. Of the hefty sum, $230 million would go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help with vaccine development.
Another $476 million would go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for mosquito control and “readiness and response activities,” while $85 million would go to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the development of rapid diagnostic tests, STAT News reported.
The money would be further divided among the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which would get $175 million for mosquito control.
The bill, which still needs to be approved by the Senate, has been heavily criticized not only because of spending cuts being used for the bill’s funding, but also because it contains a number of additional controversial policy changes.
Zika Bill Paves the Way for Unchecked Pesticide Spraying
A Clean Water Act permit is generally required to spray pesticides in areas where they might end up in water. The permit is intended to keep the toxic chemicals from contaminating water, but now the Zika virus has been used as an excuse to do away with this common-sense precaution.
A rider inserted into the bill would allow pesticides to be sprayed over ditches, streams and other waterways protected by the Clean Water Act for a period of 180 days, with no permit required whatsoever.
Critics argued the bill would do little to help fight Zika virus, since mosquito control agencies already have authority to apply pesticides in emergency situations to prevent the spread of infectious disease without applying for permits.
Opponents say the bill has nothing to do with combating Zika and, instead, has been on the table for years, with the majority pushing for its passage “under whatever name” was convenient at the time.
Politico reported, “ … opponents … point out that the country’s waterways are heavily burdened by pesticide runoff, and say the permitting regime doesn’t impede necessary mosquito control.”
Military Personnel Likely to Be First Guinea Pigs for Zika Vaccine
Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in Silver Spring, Maryland are racing to develop a Zika vaccine that may soon become one more shot that military personnel are required to receive.
At the Institute’s Pilot Bioproduction Facility (PBF), researchers are growing Zika virus in monkey liver cells, then inactivating the virus, isolating the particles and injecting them into animals to study the resulting immune response.
After the results are published, they’ll move on to testing in primates and then to human “guinea pigs” as early as this fall.
While it’s fairly common knowledge that military personnel are often subjected to experimental vaccines, many are not aware that the military is actively involved in vaccine development. But as WIRED noted:
“Today, the military maintains one of the biggest, smartest and most robust communicable disease-fighting labs in the country. Before Zika came along, there was Japanese encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya and West Nile.”
Demand for Abortions Rises in Latin America
An unintended consequence of the Zika virus has been a significant increase in abortions in Latin American countries, where abortion is generally illegal or highly restricted.
The trend began after a November 2015 warning by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which alerted Latin America that Zika virus may be linked to birth defects including microcephaly and other brain abnormalities, and vision and hearing defects.
In turn, some countries took the unprecedented step of warning women to avoid pregnancy, which, as noted by a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), left women with few options.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge looked into rates of abortion requests through Women on Web (WoW), which is a nonprofit group that provides access to abortion medications, and found significant increases now compared to five years before the PAHO warning.
Countries that advised women to avoid getting pregnant had the greatest rise in abortion demand. In both Brazil and Ecuador, the number of such requests rose by 108 percent, followed by a 93 percent rise in Venezuela and a 76 percent increase in Honduras.
Colombia had a 39 percent increase while Costa Rica and El Salvador saw rises of 36 percent. Not all of these increases were among women who had contracted Zika; many were among women who simply feared they might, the researchers noted.
They also believe their numbers underestimate the true demand for abortions, as they only assessed requests through WoW; many other women may have sought abortions via other underground methods.
Is Zika Really a Public Health Emergency?
Perhaps the most controversial of all is whether or not Zika virus is the health emergency it’s being portrayed as. It’s possible Zika-carrying mosquitoes could be involved in suspected cases of microcephaly, but there are other factors that should be considered as well.
For starters, the outbreak occurred in a largely poverty-stricken agricultural area of Brazil that uses large amounts of banned pesticides.
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.
Environmental pollution and toxic pesticide exposure have been positively linked to a wide array of adverse health effects, including birth defects. For instance:
- Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of microcephaly
- The CDC lists malnutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals as known risk factors
- The CDC also notes certain infections during pregnancy, including rubella, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis and others, are risk factors
Mosquito Experts Say Zika Is Unlikely to Become Established in the U.S.
The U.S. is in the midst of launching a $1.1 billion fight against Zika virus — even though in the states, no local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported. Yet fear levels are high and rising, perhaps far out of proportion with the actual risk.
Even mosquito experts are questioning the extent of emergency that actually exists. Chris Barker, Ph.D., a mosquito-borne virus researcher at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, told WebMD:
“I think the risk for Zika actually setting up transmission cycles that become established in the continental U.S. is near zero.”
Barker expects Zika to go the way of other tropical diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as dengue fever and chikungunya, in the U.S. with perhaps small clusters of outbreaks in southern states and little activity elsewhere.
The rising panic of Zika is reminiscent of many past diseases that failed to cause the devastation health officials warned of. Remember SARS, bird flu, swine flu and Ebola? Or even the measles “outbreak” in 2015?
There was widespread fear, outrage and panic that the disease would sweep across the U.S., affecting populations from border to border. Calls for experimental drugs and vaccines were made and millions, if not billions, of dollars were spent. And for what?
In most cases, the diseases fizzled out on their own, exacting a far less sensational health toll than the media and, often, the government had you believe.
If You’re Worried About Mosquitoes, Here’s How to Repel Them Naturally
We’re in the midst of prime mosquito season for much of the U.S. Typically, mosquito season is viewed as more of an itchy nuisance than a health threat, but that has changed somewhat this year, at least perceptually since Zika virus’ connection to birth defects is still being explored. If, however, mosquitoes are bothersome for you, there are some steps you can take to encourage them to live elsewhere without dousing yourself or your backyard with pesticides.
Draining standing water, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tires, bird baths, children’s toys and so on, is important. This is where mosquitoes breed, so if you eliminate standing water, you’ll eliminate many mosquitoes. Planting marigolds around your yard also works as a bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance that bugs do not like. This is a great way to ward off mosquitoes without using chemical insecticides.
A simple house fan could also help keep mosquitoes at bay if you’re having a get-together in your backyard or, for a longer-term solution, try installing a bat house (bats are voracious consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes).
It’s best to avoid using bug zappers in your yard, as these may actually attract more mosquitoes while killing beneficial insects. Insect foggers designed to clear insects out of your backyard should also be avoided, as they require the use of strong, potentially harmful, pesticides and don’t offer lasting protection.
Even those clip-on repellents and fans that are widely sold are best avoided, as they contain even more toxic ingredients than repellents that can be applied to your skin, and they pose an inhalation hazard.
Some experts also recommend supplementing with one vitamin B1 tablet a day from April through October, and then adding 100 milligrams of B1 to a B100 Complex daily during the mosquito season to make you less attractive to mosquitoes. Regularly consuming garlic may also help protect against mosquito bites, as may the following natural insect repellents:
- Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET)
- Clear liquid vanilla extract mixed with olive oil
- Wash with citronella soap, and then put some 100 percent pure citronella essential oil on your skin. Java Citronella is considered the highest quality citronella on the market
- Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is 10 times more effective than DEET)
*Article originally appeared at Mercola.