Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Will spraying for Zika bring about a silent spring?

monarch butterfly
Already dwindling populations, are we irreparably
harming our butterflies and bees?
While watching the news this morning, I was alarmed by the reports of almost frenzied aerial spraying of insecticides in Florida in hopes of eradicating the Zika virus.

Is it wise to douse every living thing with poison?

While I understand that this illness must be eradicated, I can't help but worry about the long-and- short term effects. Is this overkill?

The Zika virus has been around for a long time, discovered in monkeys in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947 with the first human case five years later. Cases were reported in Africa and Asia, but not until 2015 was it discovered in South America. There are now reports of cases in southern Florida and more widespread instances of Zika-carrying mosquitoes throughout the southern United States and beyond. The disease is spread by mosquito bites, and as recently discovered, through sexual contact, and possibly by blood transfusion. Despite its long history, more than 60 years, there remains no vaccine.

While I understand the need to control the spread of this disease, which can cause microcephaly, a severe fetal brain defect, in infants. There are also increased reports of Guilllain-Barre syndrome, a disease where "a person's own immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC). But I can't help but worry about the effects of widespread use of insecticide.

Will we see a Silent Spring in seven months from now?

Zika is an "international health emergency," say the CDC, as new countries affected are added almost daily. According to a timeline published by Reuters, the first baby born with microcephaly in the U.S. was in Florida June 28 of this year. Today, it says the CDC reports 400 pregnant women in the U.S. with evidence of the infection, up from 346 a week before. Three more babies have been born in the U.S. with birth defects, bringing the total to 12. Infected babies were also born in New York City, Spain, and Honduras.

Cases are declining in Brazil where the Olympic games are about to begin. Numbers are falling--from 3,710 to 3,741--a week ago.

The first Zika death has been reported in Puerto Rico in April where there are also 683 suspected cases, including 65 pregnant women and five suspected instances of Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Spain reported its first case of a brain-defect related to Zika in May.

Surely widespread spraying of insecticide cannot be done worldwide. Wouldn't it be more prudent to encourage individuals to protect themselves from being bitten by infected mosquitoes?

There are scientific solutions on the horizon, such as the controversial genetically-modified mosquitoes, but for a myriad reasons, not the least of which are funding and uncooperative public agencies, that is not happening.

We find ourselves in a potentially deadly situation at present, but what about the solutions causing irreversible damage to the environment? 

The most commonly used fogging agents used in Florida to kill adult mosquitoes are pyrethroids.

This man-made chemical is similar to the natural occurring compound in the chrysanthemum flower. Large amounts of this chemical can cause dizziness, headache, and nausea that can last for several hours. Larger amounts might cause muscle twitching, reduced energy, and changes in awareness. In larger amounts, it could cause convulsions and loss of consciousness. Exposure might be capable of causing cancer, according to the Toxic substances portal of the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry of the CDC. 

We have already seen a decline in the number of bees and butterflies, as well as other pollinators essential to the production of food and essential plants. According to Nature World News, "Now new research has determined that sprays commonly used to control mosquito populations in the United States may also be having an adverse effect on common butterfly populations." The publication cites journals: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Science of the Total Environment, and Chemosphere.

This 2015 article, published prior to the massive spraying due to Zika, sounded alarms to the use of insecticides.

"It was already known that these chemicals were toxic to many species past a certain concentration," according to the report. It adds that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already lists insecticides as toxic to aquatic organisms and honeybees.