Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 75

“World War Z”

In World War Z - The Oral History of the Zombie War, billions of humans die.

This 2006 novel by Max (son of Mel) Brooks sees the world overrun with plague-infected zombies. After ten bloody years, zombies still walk the ocean floors and infest remote Arctic rim islands. In the 2013 WWZ movie, Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, unsure if he too is infected, retreats from the epic carnage to a W.H.O. safe facility.  The geopolitical sweep of the story – rife with themes of isolationism, survivalism and situational ambiguity – makes it much more than just a zombie flick.

As the “Great Panic” spreads quickly from patient zero in China to Taiwan to South Africa to Palestine and Israel, a border wall (below) built between the undead and the orthodox is quickly breached. It becomes the ready excuse for a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and Iran. After the disastrous Battle of Yonkers outside New York City, the epidemic eventually crosses America, and the U.S. government flees to boats off Hawaii. Common citizens escape to the relative safety of Canada’s northern tundra, where 11 million refugees freeze or starve to death. Only the International Space Station astronauts stay safely quarantined, foraging for food from abandoned space debris.

And now, World War Zika is upon us. At least it’s newly upon The Americas.

Zika is a mosquito-borne flavivirus infection related to Dengue, West Nile virus and Yellow fever. Its previous hunting ground was Africa, since its initial 1947 characterization in Uganda. But in recent months, Zika virus has become yet another global public health crisis. In a banal statement, W.H.O. General Director Margaret Chan said the virus was “spreading explosively,” and that this was an “extraordinary event”. W.H.O. predicts up to 4,000,000 infections in The Americas in the coming year. The C.D.C. reported the first U.S. case in Hawaii in January, in a mother who was infected while pregnant and residing in Brazil in May 2015.

Most current fears are related to Zika-infected women having babies with microcephaly.

This connection was made by two busy pediatricians in Recife, Brazil – Dr. Vanessa van der Linden Mota and her mother Dr. Ana van der Linden (above). The epidemiology seems compelling – 147 cases in Brazil in 2014 before Zika was widespread, and upwards of 4,180 cases since October 2015. Some Brazilian public health experts predict 50,000 to 100,000 microcephaly cases by 2020. In a troubling antisocial response, many Brazilian fathers are abandoning the mothers of their Zika-damaged children. Pregnant women from all around the world are cancelling travel to Brazil. The 2016 Summer Olympics are bound to be impacted!

But wait! The pathophysiology of Zika-associated microcephaly remains poorly understood.

Other South American physicians are linking microcephaly to the widespread recent use of Monsanto’s larvicide, pyriproxyfen, used to treat mosquito-infested drinking water tanks (see post #51 - The Monsanto Years). In 2014, the Brazilian Health Ministry ordered the injection of these chemicals into water tanks in areas where the Aedes aegypti mosquito was prevalent (below). The Pernambuco area of Brazil, where the larvicide was widely used, now accounts for 35% of the microcephaly cases. Ecologists and activists are up in arms. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff recently commented, “We have to mobilize so we do not lose this battle.”

But what, exactly, are they are fighting?

Unlike many local TV Action News public health talking heads, W.H.O.’s Margaret Chan was very careful to state that, “Although a causal link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly… has not been established, the circumstantial evidence is suggestive and extremely worrisome.

So, plausible global health deniability lives!

In the 1930’s, radio carried powerful messages into living rooms across the countries of the world. It contorted public opinion – spreading fascism across much of Europe and bible thumping religious extremism across the Southern U.S. The Gallup organization was founded in 1935. Before turning to election polling, George Gallup came to understand the power of public opinion, and the underlying psychology of fear. In 1938, in an effort to boost the Mercury Theatre of the Air radio program’s ratings, Orson Welles’ re-broadcast of the War of the Worlds caused a national panic that forced a very public apology.

Fact: There is no Zika virus treatment or vaccine available.

Fact: Unlike West Nile, there is no test to identify Zika virus infections in mosquitoes.

Question: Is Zika just the latest post-infectious apocalypse?

In public health, the medium of official W.H.O. and C.D.C. public statements is the message. Tepid or terrifying, their global headlines carry weight in political and medical circles. They breathe an air of credibility into “explosively… extraordinary” crises like Zika virus, often in the absence of real facts.

In the end, the fleeing masses are confused, frightened… yes, panicked!

Max Brook's The Zombie Survival Guide (2003) states that most zombies, “move at a rate of barely one step per 1.5 seconds.” WWZ zombies, while very undead, move FAST, traveling in packs that completely overwhelm military and civilian efforts to hold the line.

When the fear of a disease goes viral, mistakes get made.

We in the Square see The Truth getting trampled by these zombie hoards. Like mosquitoes, they quickly swarm their victims, but are slow to come to the facts!


1 comment:

  1. Interesting view but like Ebola, I would imagine that there is a natural ebb and flow phase and these epidemics will continue to hit us in waves. I`m not sure that much has been done at Ground zero to change lives or avert the next epidemic. Whereas Ebola hogged a lot of press, we have probably resigned to Zika