Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A panic worth having?

At first I thought that the spread of the zika virus might not be as big a global health concern as some seemed to think.  (Although, of course, it would be a big worry if you were planning on having a baby in a poor area with poor mosquito control.)

But more recent articles tend to make it sound definitely worth worrying about for a variety of reasons.

This article in the New York Times talks about its possible mental health consequences, for example:
The possibility that in utero infection could contribute to mental illness first emerged with an observation in 1988 by Finnish researchers that children born during the 1957 Asian flu epidemic had high rates of schizophrenia later in life.

Researchers have long noted that schizophrenia is highest in adults who were born in winter and early spring — just after the peak of flu season.

But estimates of the size of the risk vary. One 2011 analysis of other studies estimated that maternal infections of any kind account for 6 percent of all cases of schizophrenia. (Researchers have done very large studies in Finland, Sweden and Denmark because they have cradle-to-grave records on millions of citizens.)

By contrast, a 2001 study of adults born to mothers infected with rubella, or German measles, during the last American epidemic, which lasted from 1964 to 1965, found that 20 percent had schizophrenia symptoms. The expected rate among adults is below 1 percent.

Dr. Alan S. Brown, the director of birth cohort studies at Columbia University Medical School and leader of that study, said it was “certainly possible” that Zika posed a similar risk, “although ideally, you’d want a controlled study.”
And at Vox, this article starts with the surprising information that:
Before last year, scientists knew very little about the Zika virus. As late as 2007, there had only been 14 documented Zika cases in the world. Research on the virus was so limited, in fact, that printouts of all the world's published literature could basically fit into a shoebox.

A bit of a worry...

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