The news that Barbados has now been named one of 17 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean with severe outbreaks of Zika virus has prompted serious cause for concern especially among tourists thinking of visiting. Though the incidence of illness has not reached the levels reported in Brazil, authorities are taking no chances and have instituted dawn to dusk spraying for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito (above left)
This mosquito carries dengue fever as well as Zika and is specifically being targeted for extermination- despite the fact these little beasts have been known to find hiding places almost impervious to the insecticide (malathion) which often wreaks more havoc on humans.
Meanwhile abortion clinics and family planning services are working overtime to inform younger women of the risks. As I noted in a previous blog, Pope Francis has now given special dispensation for at risk females to use artificial contraception to reduce the risk of infection and hence impregnation leading to infants exhibiting microcephaly. Francis intimated also that artificial contraception may be morally acceptable to avoid spreading the Zika virus.
This microcephaly condition is now linked to Zika by "numerous lines of evidence" according to a recent WHO report. Microcephaly leads to shrunken heads and brains that render the person almost totally cognitively impaired - and with an abbreviated life span.
In one study carried out at FSU, Johns Hopkins and Emory University several types of stem cells, including "parental" (which give rise to brain neurons), were exposed to a strain of Zika. The results showed that the virus infected and "hijacked" the cells driving them to generate more copies of the virus at the expense of healthy cells. Essentially the pre-neural cells became a non-stop Zika virus factory. This was according to Guo li-Ming one of the study authors and a professor at Hopkins.
Meanwhile, many of the already infected cells died while others showed gene disruptions that made it impossible to generate new cells effectively, according to Guo. Thereby the infected cells themselves become the vehicles for the destruction of the fetal brain -causing the massive shrinkage, and also of the still plastic skull that holds it
The forlorn victims often don't survive to adulthood but those that do are either warehoused in sanatariums at enormous cost because they cannot care for themselves, OR (if minimally functional) they end up as circus freaks (such as the several depicted in Tod Browning's 1932 flick 'Freaks', e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJVXTKkjsxA)
Others suffer in continual pain and agony and indeed, it would be better if they'd never been born, Hence, the need for the abortion option as well, say if an at risk female still becomes pregnant despite using contraception and tests show a microcephalic fetus. We have already seen in the news several months ago that a young Slovenian woman - returning from Brazil (and after having sexual relation there), did a test for microcephaly - and found it to be positive. Unwilling and unable to bear the costs of future care, she had the fetus aborted.
Many women in Barbados are now gearing up for such hard choices as well. Given the island nation's extraordinarily low mean income level, high unemployment level (22%) and lack of health resources, it is about the only practical option left to many in the working class (85 % of the population). As Zika spreads, including to the U.S. by this summer, these are choices American women will have to make as well
As for the general pattern of infection, the incubation period is likely to be a few days. The symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for 2-7 days. The worst outcome for an adult is the neurological condition called Guillain- Barre syndrome in which the immune system attacks the nervous system causing temporary but sometimes severe paralysis as well as inability to speak. It is not known how many such cases are in the Caribbean islands right now but estimates range from 15- 100.
One hopes that as the information of Zika's depredations - especially on fetal brain tissue - is more widely disseminated, the Pope will allow exceptions for Zika -based abortions as well. Such a move would follow the original Church canons that allowed them to be performed up until the third trimester (at least until 1869. when the rule was changed)
The larger point here is the fact the Church has already changed its doctrine on abortion thereby showing its moral positions are malleable and not set in stone. In this case, it is much better to prevent added suffering in the world - by ushering in thousands of babies with malformed brains- than to enable its spread.