Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When You Share Zika Virus Rumors, the Mosquitoes Win

The Zika virus is a hot topic right now and you may be seeing articles being shared from various sources and websites. As research progresses, more information is being discovered and shared about the link between the virus and the developmental disorder, microcephaly. Unfortunately, like many new and mysterious medical topics, myths and rumors are bound to pop out and be passed around as truths. It only took a few weeks for the stories and conspiracies theories to poke their head and make their way to social media concerning the Zika Virus and increased reports of microcephaly in Brazil, and they are already damaging public health efforts.

One of the most damaging myths being passed around online is about how a group of physicians claimed that the thousands of cases of microcephaly reported this year aren’t due to the Zika virus, but are instead due to pesticides. There's another rumor that a British biotech company released genetically modified mosquitoes to combat dengue fever in Brazil and that caused the thousands of cases microcephaly as an adverse effect. Neither of these stories or theories hold up under rational scrutiny. These are stories that are merely fear pieces that ignore the scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, it's not only laypeople falling for this myths, but also celebrities and widely-recognized figures, who then share them as potential theories and thus increase the likelihood of more people reading and falling victim to them.

Let's quickly debunk these two myths and move on to how this hurts our efforts in battling the Zika virus. The larvicide pyriproxyfen, a chemical that kills mosquito larvae, has been thoroughly studied. It is used worldwide and it's only effect is reducing the number of mosquitoes that carry deadly diseases. Pyripyroxyfen has been used for decades, with no reports of increased birth defects.

Using genetically modified mosquitoes and bacteria is a prevention method being supported and encouraged by the World Health organization (WHO). The modified mosquitoes receive a modified gene, usually male mosquitoes, so that when they mate with females in the wild, they will produce offspring that die before they reach adulthood. There is no evidence to support rumors tying Zika to genetically modified mosquitoes.

The conspiracy theorists aren't limiting themselves to accusing genetically modified mosquitoes or
larvicides. The New York Times wrote a collective article about the many types of conspiracy theories about Zika spreading through Brazil. Frontline also gathered a collection of debunked Zika myths involving a falsified claimed that expired vaccines are to blame.

"The rumor exasperates Patricia Ismael de Carvalho, general director of information and strategic actions in epidemiological surveillance for the Pernambuco State Secretariat of Health. She insisted that vaccines present no danger to pregnant women, and that there is nothing to support the theory.
“It’s impossible. Vaccination given to pregnant women are all inactivated viruses. There is nothing active in the vaccine, nothing to cause harm,” she said."

Journalists reported on the ongoing battle to educate and spread accurate information. Health departments are trying to reach out in any possible way: leaflets; TV and radio advertisements; the mobilization of businesses, churches and nongovernmental organizations; weekly press conferences and near daily coverage by local media.

At the current moment, there is no specific treatment for Zika patients. Without a cure, treatment focuses on supportive care such as rest, re-hydration, managing fever and pain. In regards to preventing the virus, it will be at least 18 months before any vaccines are tested in large-scale clinical trials. In the meantime people traveling and living in the Zika areas are advised to follow strict mosquito prevention strategies throughout the entire day, not just at dusk.

Recommendations for Those Traveling/Living in an Area of Zika Virus Transmission 
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants 
  • Use U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA registered insect repellents 
  • Wear permethrin-treated clothing and gear 
  • Staying and sleeping in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms
  • Follow these steps to prevent your home and living space from mosquitoes.

Healthcare professionals are asked to monitor the CDC and state/local health departments for evidence-based, accurate information and updates on the progress of Zika virus treatment and prevention. (

Nurses, when you come across myths and rumors- counter them with appropriate sources from the CDC and and health departments. Don't be afraid to speak up!

Remember- when you share dangerous Zika misinformation, you're hurting science and letting the mosquitoes win.

The Zika Virus may seem to be a world away, but with recent cases appearing across the United States,
this not-so-new virus is grabbing the attention of the media and medical professionals alike.
With the upcoming summer Olympics scheduled to take place in Brazil, the epicenter of the recent Zika outbreak,
concern is growing over the threat the virus may pose, particularly to pregnant women. New York
is far from Brazil, but many in our area have questions and concerns.

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