Brazilian scientists say they have found further evidence that the Zika virus is related to microcephaly – a disorder which causes babies to be born with unusually small heads.
According to the country’s official news agency, scientists in Rio de Janeiro have be able to isolate the virus in the brains of fetuses with microcephaly. Professor Renato Santana, one of researchers involved in the study, said: “What we know now may help us understand why the virus has chosen children’s brain cells over those of adults—the pregnant women.”
It was also announced that the scientists have determined the genome of the Zika virus, and are one step “towards understanding how Zika behaves in the human body and how to develop a vaccine as well as new tests”.
This news follows several weeks of online articles linking the surge of microcephaly cases in Brazil to an insecticide – pyriproxyfen – used by the state to eradicate disease-carrying mosquitoes.
On February 3, an Argentine doctors’ organization, Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns (PCST), released a report suggesting that pyriproxyfen is in fact the cause behind the rise in microcephaly.
The report mentions that the Japanese company Sumitomo Chemical responsible for manufacturing pyriproxyfen is a “strategic partner” of Monsanto. This information has been taken from a 2014 press release from Sumitomo Chemical announcing that it “has reached a long-term agreement for weed management collaboration in Brazil and Argentina with Monsanto Company”.
However, Monsanto are not directly implicated in the manufacturing or distribution of pyriproxyfen by the PCST report or the GM Watch article. This, however, has not stopped the online rumor mill from pointing the finger firmly at Monsanto. Other articles and social media posts blaming the corporation for the microcephaly cases in Brazil have spread far and wide across the internet.
Monsanto, however, has been quick to point out that it has nothing to do with microchepaly nor the Zika virus. Taking to its Facebook page, Monsanto Company said: “Neither Monsanto nor our products have any connection to the Zika virus or microcephaly. Monsanto does not manufacture or sell pyriproxyfen. Monsanto does not own Sumitomo Company. However, Sumitomo is one of our business partners in the area of crop protection.”
Endocrine and immunological disorders
Spurious rumors regarding Monsanto’s involvement aside, the PCST report alleges:
(The) malformations detected in thousands of children from pregnant women living in areas where the Brazilian state added pyriproxyfen to drinking water are not a coincidence even though the Ministry of Health places a direct blame on the Zika virus for this damage, while trying to ignore its responsibility and ruling out the hypothesis of direct and cumulative chemical damage caused by years of endocrine and immunological disruption of the affected population.
Erring on the side of caution, the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul has subsequently banned the use of pesticides. João Gabbardo Dos Reis, the state’s health secretary, told the Wall Street Journal that although they have “no indication that the larvicide has a link with microcephaly cases”, there is also no “strong evidence that it has no links”.
Sumitomo Chemical has been quick to reject the PCST’s theory. According to CNN, the Japanese company said in a statement that “pyriproxyfen is safe and effective for the use in combating diseases spread by mosquitoes, and that the concerns related to microcephaly are totally unfounded”.
CNN reports that Brazil’s federal government disagrees with Rio Grande do Sul’s decision to ban pesticides and, along with the World Health Organization (WHO), agrees that there is no scientific evidence linking pyriproxyfen to microcephaly. Both the WHO and Brazil’s federal government agree that the Zika virus is the most likely cause.
The WHO told CNN that “after additional reviewing toxicology data on Pyriproxyfen, [it] has concluded that there is no evidence that would suggest that the larvicide could be the cause of the current outbreak of microcephaly in northeastern Brazil or the one that struck French Polynesia in 2013-2014”.
The PCST theory is not the only one to have surfaced. Another theory suggests that Zika has been caused by experiments with GM mosquitoes carried out by British biotech company Oxitec. And, a new tube video entitled ‘BIOWEAPON! Zika Virus Is Bieng Spread by GMO Mosquitoes funded by Gates!’ theorizes that the Zika virus in Brazil “could be linked to the release into the wild of genetically modified mosquitoes in recent field trials in Brazil funded by the Bill and Gates Foundation”. However, as Discover Magazine reports, these “ridiculous conspiracy theories” are not supported by any scientific evidence.