The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today it will be holding an emergency meeting on Feb. 1, 2016, to determine if the current Zika virus outbreak is a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” which can direct money and resources at the virus much faster. The last time the WHO declared an emergency of this magnitude was for the Ebola virus outbreak. The Zika outbreak is being linked to a number of babies being born with microcephaly, a birth defect that causes underdeveloped brains.
The WHO also said in its emailed statement that the virus has been “spreading explosively” in South and Central America, and that the “level of alarm is extremely high.” The Zika virus has been linked to women giving birth to babies with microcephaly and who were infected in the first 4-5 months of her pregnancy. After 20 weeks, the chances of the baby getting microcephaly drop dramatically.
The Zika virus, while normally not deadly to humans, is carried by mosquitoes after they bite an infected person, and it is being linked to the uptick in babies born with microcephaly. In Brazil, cases of microcephaly rose nearly 30-fold from 2014-2015, or roughly 4,000 cases, and lines up perfectly with the very strong El Niño event occurring along the tropical Pacific. (See video)
A few environmental activists are already using the Zika virus to further their own global warming agendas and saying climate change is fueling the recent uptick in outbreaks. But what’s fueling the outbreak is a strong, naturally occurring El Niño creating increased rainfall in Latin America. More rain means more mosquitoes, as they need water to lay their eggs. Plus the Zika virus has been around for decades, and requires an infected person to re-transmit the disease.
The Zika virus was first discovered in monkeys in Uganda’s ‘Zika’ forest in 1947 by scientists researching yellow fever. As the years passed, “it slowly migrated eastward around the globe, following oceanic trade routes with the help of infected sailors and mosquitoes trapped in the holds of ships.” Most people who get infected with the Zika virus feel like they have a bad cold or the flu and deaths are rare. What makes this virus so particularly menacing is “people can contract the virus if they are bitten by a mosquito that has previously drawn blood from another infected person.”
The mosquito that carries the Zika is known as the “Aedes aegypti, the same species of mosquito that carries dengue fever, yellow fever, and Chikungunya.” This particular mosquito requires pristine water to lay eggs, which is why the increased rainfall is so important. As El Niños generate excess rainfall across Latin America, they also generate fertile breeding grounds for the mosquito. Empty tires, waterways, and puddles are favorite egg-laying areas.
Environmental activist Bill McKibben has already chimed in and is using the devastating birth defects resulting from microcephaly to further his global warming crusade. He says it’s likely the uptick in Zika is a direct result of climate change. McKibben also writes that the Zika outbreak on “mosquitoes whose range inexorably expands as the climate warms.” Not so, say the experts. As far as Zika is concerned, the “mosquitoes in question have been well-established in the affected region for nearly two decades.”
Even more important than the changes in mosquito distribution is the change in rainfall caused by the 2015 El Niño, a naturally occurring event in which the waters along the tropical Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal. This warmer sea surface has untold affects on the climate all around the world, including an increase in rainfall in South America. This particular El Niño is one of the strongest recorded since recordkeeping began in the 1950s.