Who doesn't love a decent conspiracy theory? Sometimes a small part of me still likes to believe that tiny pet alligators who were flushed down the toilet now live full size in the sewers below the city. I know it's not true, but it's kind of harmless fun, you know? Speculating about conspiracies. Except, of course, when that speculation becomes dangerous. When belief in a conspiracy puts you or someone else in peril, or minimizes someone's real struggle. That's why this whispered belief that the Zika virus is a conspiracy is not only unfounded, but also a little offensive.
In Brazil (where the Zika virus has hit the country particularly hard), there is a theory that the virus was accidentally created by genetically-modified mosquitoes a British biotech company released to combat dengue fever. The idea that a larvicide, and not the bite of an infected Aedes variety mosquito, was causing the massive surge in microcephaly (a birth defect that affects proper brain growth and causes a host of neurological problems), became so prevalent at one point that some Brazilian states banned the use of larvicide in their drinking water. The idea continues to persist despite this blunt statement released by the Brazilian government: “The association between the use of pyriproxyfen and microcephaly has no scientific basis.”
According to the World Health Organization;
Larvicides are an important weapon in the public health practitioner’s arsenal. Especially in cities and towns with no piped water, people tend to store drinking water in outdoor containers. These sources of water, as well as standing water that may collect in garbage, flower pots and tyres, serve as ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Larvicides such as pyriproxyfen are often used in containers where people store water to kill the mosquito in its larval stage. When people drink water from containers that have been treated with pyriproxyfen, they are exposed to the larvicide – but in tiny amounts that do not harm their health. Moreover, 90% - 95% of any larvicide ingested is excreted into the urine within 48 hours. This product has been used since the late-1990s without being linked to microcephaly.
It isn't only the larvicide myth that is being passed around among conspiracy theorists. Some also believe that the MMR vaccine causes microcephaly. A notion the WHO is anxious to dispel.
There is no evidence linking any vaccine to the increases in microcephaly cases that were observed first in French Polynesia during the 2013-2014 outbreak and more recently in northeastern Brazil.
An extensive review of the literature published in 2014 found no evidence that any vaccine administered during pregnancy resulted in birth defects. The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, which provides independent scientific advice to the World Health Organization (WHO) on vaccine safety issues, reached a similar conclusion in 2014.
One conspiracy theory that the WHO does not address is the myth spreading through social media that the man-made Zika virus was released as a way to control population.
So here's the thing; conspiracy theories are great fodder for dinner parties. But, it's important to remember that there is dinner party fodder and then there's real life. Zika, unfortunately, is real life for millions of people right now and will likely be spreading. So let's not do everyone who may be affected by Zika or who wants to take precautions a disservice by downplaying the danger.