A calm, rational reaction to the Zika virus

Peter Doherty explains the likely outcomes of the Zika virus pandemic.

What we are seeing in the Americas is a classic “virgin soil” epidemic. Enormous numbers of people and mosquitoes are being infected, the virus is transmitting at a very high level, and there may be as many as 4×106 cases. Apart from affected neonates, all will likely recover, with increasing “background” immunity progressively limiting the number of new infections in subsequent years. The current molecular technology is such that making a protective vaccine should be technically straightforward, but the process of safety testing and evaluation could take several years.

The long-term prospect with Zika virus is that we will live reasonably comfortably with it, especially if there is a vaccine to protect women of reproductive age. The principal decision for responsible authorities, like National Governments in endemic areas and the WHO, is whether there is a case for fast-tracking, then funding, a vaccine to protect all young women. For the present, pregnant women are advised not to travel to these countries and, for those where this in not an issue, insect repellant also offers some protection against much nastier viruses like dengue and Chikungunya.

It’s spreading rapidly, and one contributor to that is the ridiculous attitudes of conservative Christianity, but this one, tragic as its consequences can be, isn’t the big pandemic that will kill us all. And the answer to it lies in natural properties of adaptive immunity and vaccines.


  1. says

    No! Everybody must panic! Zika will make all the children microcephalic! Our only hope is to pour massive amounts of money into neural development research and restorative therapies!

    Disclaimer: I am the parent of a child with FOXG1 Syndrome.

  2. says

    Katja Iversen, chief executive of the Women Deliver organization, called it “a cheap shot for governments to say postpone your next pregnancy if you don’t make contraception and access to safe abortion readily available.”

    “It is interesting to see how the focus is on the big epidemic, but even though women are carrying the burden, they are still an asterisk,” Iversen said.


  3. unclefrogy says

    what you say about how the Kika virus will go is probably accurate I do not know much about it in it’s area of origin. It does illustrate how easy a “new” pathogen can spread and how fast. In this case it is just new to the area not a new mutation entirely. It has always been a kind of race between the “eater” and the “eaten” and not that different to the libertarian’s wisdom of the market in correcting “problems” it, the market and nature, just does not have any vested interest in any particular outcome or “winner” only that the “game” continue until it reaches some stable point for a while and then changes again.
    uncle frogy

  4. unclefrogy says

    I even spell checked but I do not know what a kika is I have heard of a zika
    uncle frogy

  5. dick says

    I heard that a genetic modification has been made to some females of the particular mosquito species that spreads Zika virus. Their male offspring are sterile, & are bred in large numbers, that are then released into the wild. The wild population then crashes by about 90%.

    Unless the technique is uneconomically expensive, it looks to me like this would be an ideal method for preventing many human tragedies.

    It seems to me that this genetic modification, by its very nature, is unlikely to spread to other organisms & adversely affect the local ecology. Nevertheless, GeneWatch UK is against it. (Curiously, in her tone of voice, their spokeswoman on this subject sounded just like the typical women who are opposed to allowing pregnant women to choose to have abortions.)

  6. brucej says

    Actually those “Christian attitudes’ are doing absolutely nothing for or against the spread of the disease…unless there’s some theocratic component to dealing with mosquitoes.

    The issue of microcephaly IS linked to that but that has nothing to do with the transmission of the disease, which in adults is a relatively mild one. (in fact it’s mild enough that some have speculated that there have been other outbreaks that simply weren’t noticed…)

    Even the link to microcephaly is tentative at this point; it will be a real mess, in terms of public health f it turns out to be related to something else such as (speculating wildly here) the particular insecticides in use, co-infection with some other common disease, or widespread use of some folk remedy…)

  7. brucej says

    dick @6: yes this has been a commonly used tactic for a number of insect-borne diseases. They’ve done this in the US to reduce Nile virus transmission and fairly successfully (iirc) to deal with medfly and other agricultural pests.

  8. mnb0 says

    I probably have had all three (I live in Suriname). Chikungunya is the worst, mainly because it lasts so long; in my case about two and a half month. The only thing that works is using paracetamol twice a day. Staying home doesn’t make any difference, so I just went to work and functioned at 50%.
    Dengue was in my case the most extreme – high fever, diarrhea, all joints terribly aching. Fortunately it lasted only a few days.
    Zika is peanuts compared to these two. It’s not any more extreme than a flu (though I have one colleague who had diarrhea for a week and another one who could not walk, also for a week) and in my case lasted three days. Again I took it easy.
    A good resistance softens the symptoms.
    The terrible thing of Zika of course is those babies with too small skulls. However I’m neither a woman nor pregnant. If it weren’t for this I’d say to shrug the epidemy off.

    @5: No. This guy is the culprit in all three cases:


  9. skybluskyblue says

    Someone has brought forth this study: https://mega.nz/#!VclklA6T!3WJM6-7Yf5f0Xa3B2N9mQO-H5HacP9PQuMZ-8QDFc1w and then said: “If you look at the mouse study from 1971 , the answer to that is very likely no, actually. They infected neonatal mice (around P7) and showed severe defects in hippocampal development, and some (less significant) cortical neuron death. So it seems that as long as there is ongoing neurodevelopment, Zika presents a problem.” This quote is from a website that is not liked here so I’ll just copy and paste the info they left about themselves: SangersSequence PhD Student | Molecular Pathology | Neurodevelopment from r3ddit. The comment was in this post: “Science AMA Series: I’m Stephen Morse, a Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. I work to understand the factors leading to emerging infectious diseases like Zika, and can answer your questions on the current outbreak.”