There is a swirl of information concerning the Zika virus whipping through the Internet and across media outlets worldwide. And a lot of it is confusing, to say the least. No one really knows where it came from or how to fight it, there’s no available vaccine, no cure and very little consensus on how best to approach remedying the situation. It is a tough question, no doubt: talk of mass infection, mass vaccination, and mitigation is swirling like a maelstrom of news and information. No one knows what to do, but something has to be done.
Any time an infection – be it bacterial, viral or social – spreads rapidly on Earth it causes alarm amongst the international community and the public at large. No one wants to live through the next Black Plague. So as Zika spreads and the world debates the logistics, it is important to acknowledge historical similarities between this viral circulation and previous ones; like Avian Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, Malaria, and the countless others that have cropped up over the last several decades.
The global reaction is almost formulaic: the media catches wind of the disease in its early stages and plants the seeds on the nightly news, and in paper headlines or online. The public is alerted to the threat, but nothing is really done about it. Only once the ill start dropping like flies and the spreading disease picks up momentum (or it is made to appear that way) does the media light the fires of panic amongst the people.
Few news segments get as much attention as those concerning the spread of something deadly – so they let it develop into something substantial, stretch it out, and cash in on the tragedy. Suddenly the story is everywhere, and we’re closing our borders, vaccinating citizens indiscriminately, warning against travel abroad, and sending doctors and nurses out to handle the problem while scientists work tirelessly to invent either a vaccine or a treatment. Then, as quickly as it began, it’s over. The threat is neutralized by some medical development and everyone goes on with their worried lives.
So far we have been extremely effective at this process. One ugly affliction rears its head; we struggle with it for a period, and then smite it with all the might and mystery of our favorite weapon: science. It works. But the problem with this modus operandi is the inherent cleverness of nature itself: life is a fine tuned mechanism of the universe that can adapt and evolve to deal with whatever hardships or obstacles it is faced with. And every time we rush to create a vaccine, and distribute it on a global scale, we increase the potential for one of these diseases to attain immunity and spread even faster.
By no means should we altogether abandon the practice of vaccinations, but acknowledging the risks associated with this tactic is vital. Fighting with fire is extremely effective, but one must take great care not to burn themselves. Advances in genetic modification and design have enabled us to create mosquitos that can carry vaccines and distribute them for us – and some experts are pushing to implement this strategy once a Zika vaccine is available. Not only does non-consensual vaccination on a mass scale seem like a violation of rights, but it also sounds like a great way to rapidly increase and enable viral and bacterial adaptation.
The most effective way of fighting diseases like this is to prevent them. Mitigation would be expensive no matter how you choose to approach it, but some forms are absolutely better than others. Obviously, genetically modifying mosquito-vaccine hybrids is a dangerous route to take. Another approach is to genetically modify mosquitos that will competitively override the wild population and eventually replace them completely. It sounds crazy, because it is – time and again human beings have tried to solve one problem by introducing another. Introduced species often upset the natural status quo. Similarly, some cities are spewing clouds of mosquito repellant throughout their streets, which is certain to minimize the presence of Zika carrying mosquitos. But at what cost to the people breathing in toxic fumes? At a certain point it’s just a matter of weighing consequences and choosing the lesser of two evils.
Ideally a multinational organization of internationally funded specialized health providers would travel the world and hunt down these infections and mitigate or treat them at the epicenter (the WHO can’t cover every outbreak). But assembling, managing and funding such a team would be expensive and time-consuming. So instead, we let the media decide which diseases we pay attention to. The stark reality is that this type of scenario can be, and has been abused by those in positions of power in order to misdirect the public attention. The Zika virus is a paradoxical obstacle, as are all disease outbreaks. Yet with the amount of inaccurate information and false claims surrounding this virus, it seems Zika might be just such a distraction.
“And as I keep stressing, the virus becomes the formidable cover story that conceals the truth.” – John Rappoport
Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pregnancy/question-answers.html, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2010/03/researchers-turn-mosquitoes-flying-vaccinators, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3444047/Zika-virus-vaccine-18-months-away-World-Health-Organisation-warns.html, http://www.americanscientist.org/science/pub/brazil-tests-gm-mosquitoes-to-fight-dengue, http://www.americanscientist.org/science/pub/brazil-tests-gm-mosquitoes-to-fight-dengue, http://www.cdc.gov/, https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Threats-to-Wildlife/Invasive-Species.aspx