An Argentinian physicians' group has come forward to challenge the notion that the mosquito-spread Zika virus is responsible for a recent increase in Brazilian babies born with the birth defect microcephaly, saying that a toxic larvicide introduced into the area's water supplies is the real culprit.
The group, which calls itself Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns, notes that a chemical larvicide that produces malformations in mosquitoes was introduced into the drinking water supply in 2014. This poison, Pyriproxyfen, was used in a massive state-run program aimed at controlling the mosquito population. Pyriproxyfen is manufactured by Sumimoto Chemical, a Japanese business partner of Monsanto.
The doctors point out that previous Zika epidemics did not cause birth defects in newborns, despite infecting 75% of the population in those countries. They also note that in other countries such as Colombia there are no records of microcephaly, yet there are plenty of Zika cases. Indeed, the allegations come soon after the president of Columbia announced that thousands of its residents are infected with the Zika virus, yet not a single case of microcephaly has been found in that country.
Microcephaly is generally a relatively rare birth defect in which the baby is born with an abnormally small head and often has brain damage. It was quickly linked to the Zika virus by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and various media outlets. However, it has never been linked to exposure to the Zika virus in the past.
The organization released a report that stated:
A dramatic increase of congenital malformations, especially microcephaly in newborns, was detected and quickly linked to the Zika virus by the Brazilian Ministry of Health. However, they fail to recognise that in the area where most sick persons live, a chemical larvicide producing malformations in mosquitoes has been applied for 18 months, and that this poison (pyroproxyfen) is applied by the State on drinking water used by the affected population.
The report went on:
Pyroproxyfen is applied directly by the Brazilian Ministry of Health on drinking-water reservoirs used by the people of Pernambuco, where the proliferation of the Aedes mosquito is very high (a situation similar to the Pacific Islands).(6) This poison, recommended by the WHO, is a growth inhibitor of mosquito larvae, which alters the development process larva-pupa-adult, thus generating malformations in developing mosquitoes and causing their death or incapacity.
The group is angry at the mass spraying, saying that it is only making people sicker and not helping solve the problem. They wrote:
Massive spreading using planes, as the governments of Mercosur are considering, is criminal, useless, and a political manoeuvre to simulate that actions are taken. The basis of the progress of the disease lies in inequality and poverty, and the best defence are community-based actions.
The report further noted that malformations have been detected in thousands of children from pregnant women living in areas where the Brazilian state added pyriproxyfen to drinking water and say that it "is not a coincidence." It condemns the Ministry of Health for blaming the Zika virus, further noting that of 3,893 cases of malformations confirmed until late January, 49 children have died and only five of them were confirmed to have been infected with Zika.
The Brazilian public health organization Doctors from the Brazilian Association for Collective Health, also known as Abrasco, also condemned the mass spraying as a public health risk and a possible cause of the microcephaly epidemic. In a scathing report about the health crisis, they wrote that "a very lucrative business cartel, which operates throughout the world and that even with evidence of the risks caused by organophosphates and pyrethroids," is being supported the health agencies that are supposed to be looking out for the health of the people, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Abrasco wrote:
One must also question the use of chemicals on a scale that ignores the biological and environmental vulnerability of individuals and communities. The consumption of such substances by the public health care only to their producers and marketers of these poisons. (translated)
They also point out that the health risks of these chemicals are already proven and well know, writing:
A simple consultation of the chemical safety data sheets of these products delivered by companies to public health authorities shows that these products, such as the Malathion, are neurotoxic to the central and peripheral nervous system, and cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and symptoms of muscle weakness, including the concentrations used in vector control. The environmental toxicity is recommended to avoid its use in the environment, which has not been observed since its release is done the way here we denounced. (translated)
As panic spreads worldwide about the Zika virus and the microcephaly epidemic, more and more communities are using these dangerous larvacides and pesticides to try to control and prevent outbreaks. The Cornocopia Insitute points out that stragies such as these are not only dangerous to people and the environment, but they do not work well to control mosquito populations. They outline more effective means of managing mosquitoes, such as eliminating standing water and using natural predators, here.