The Weekly Green’s treatment of the Zika epidemic in South America some weeks ago turned out to be open to misinterpretation of the clinical characteristics of the virus. It is NOT the same virus as Dengue fever, although closely related and transmitted by the same vector, the mosquito Aegis Aegypti. The Weekly Green invited Genevieve Comeau, a graduate student at the University of Arizona specializing in insect-borne diseases, to clarify the issue.
In the week after the interview, reports surfaced in the media that the birth defects attributed to Zika infection might actually be caused by the insecticides used to control the mosquito. In response to this, Ms. Comeau pointed out that this is highly unlikely, because the rise in cases of children born with micro-encephaly in the affected areas coincides with the spread of the virus, while the insecticides in question have been in use for many years.
An alternative to insecticides is genetic modification of male mosquitoes, so that their offspring dies off before reaching maturity. The jury is still out on the viability of this approach.
The problem is especially vexing for Brazil, because the Olympic Games are to be held there this summer. The country is now planning to bring yet another weapon into the fight against Aegis Aegypti: sterilizing the males with gamma rays. This method has been used with some success on the island of Madeira to combat fruit flies. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will provide transportation of the device from Madeira to Brazil.