THR Web Features   /   March 8, 2016

Joseph E. Davis on the Zika Virus


Our publisher, Joe Davis, has a blog post on the Zika virus over at NYU Press’s From the Square. Check it out:

While there is no Zika vaccine, work on the related viruses for West Nile and dengue may provide valuable leads and vast resources are rapidly being repurposed in search of a medical response. Yet, the very fact of Zika—and dengue, and chikungunya, and Ebola, and all the rest—should be a sobering reminder that medicine and technology can accomplish less than we hope. Through the 1970s, leading experts argued that the era of infectious disease was over and that anything unexpected could “presumably be safely contained.” But even by then change was afoot. Marburg, Ebola, yellow fever, and then HIV/AIDS drove home a new reality.

As with these other modern epidemics, the spread of Zika has little do with the changes in the virus itself. After 60 years of inactivity, the virus is spreading because social, political, and technological developments made its spread possible, even likely. The ease and frequency of global travel, for one, enabled a string of infected travellers to carry the disease from Africa to Micronesia to French Polynesia to Brazil. By far the hardest hit areas are urban slums, where overcrowding and inadequate public services have created the stagnant pools, raw sewage, and garbage dumps that are natural breeding grounds for mosquitoes that spread the disease. Not only was Zika’s original ecological niche disrupted but other environmental factors now play a role, from deforestation to climate change. It is even possible that pesticides (indirectly) bear some of the blame: the explosion of transgenic soy crops, and their accompanying pesticides, has decreased biodiversity in large swaths of Latin America, and mosquitoes may have benefited from the disappearance of natural predators.

Read the rest here.