Virtually the entire world has been complaining about the dirty water in Guanabara Bay since before any Olympic hopeful hulls hit the water in Brazil. Sure enough, there have been many infections and scares since the very first Olympic test event. That’s nothing compared to the health risk that could affect anyone who goes to compete or even watch the Olympic games in person this year.
According to a December 24th CNN article Brazil Warns Against Pregnancy Due to Spreading Virus, the whole population of Brazil is at risk. In the piece, Angela Rocha, the pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital, asks Brazilian citizens to hold off plans of pregnancy due to a virus called Zika. Doctors recently found a connection between the virus and newborns with microcephaly when an autopsy on a newborn revealed the Zika virus. The article states there have been 2,400 reports of microcephaly this year, compared to 147 in 2014 with a possible 29 deaths and, “Initially concentrated in northeastern Brazil, many cases of microcephaly have now been detected in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to the south, fueling fears across the country.” The Brazilian government has asked pregnant women to lather in insect repellant or stay indoors. The article states that recently pregnant women complain of flu-like symptoms of rash and fever from the virus.
Mayo Clinic defines microcephaly as, “a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. Sometimes detected at birth, microcephaly usually is the result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it should after birth.”
The CNN article explains the possible origin and transmission as the Aedes aegypti mosquito which was possibly brought from Asia to Brazil by tourists during the 2014 World Cup. The Aedes is also responsible for dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever viruses, and other diseases. The mosquito can be recognized by white stripes on its legs and white markings on it’s thorax.
Not long ago, I read an article by Krista Conger of Stanford University School of Medicine titled, Viral proteins may regulate human embryonic development. In the article she states, “A fertilized human egg may seem like the ultimate blank slate. But within days of fertilization, the growing mass of cells activates not only human genes but also viral DNA lingering in the human genome from ancient infections.”
The next paragraph states, “Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that the early human cells produce viral proteins, and even become crowded with what appear to be assembled viral particles. These viral proteins could manipulate some of the earliest steps in human development, affecting gene expression and even possibly protecting the cells from further viral infection.
The finding raises questions as to who, or what, is really pulling the strings during human embryogenesis.”
When I read the Zika article I immediately made the connection between the two. I thought, what if a virus contracted before conception could be activated at conception to change gene expression? Well, that’s the definition of a retrovirus. The Stanford article goes on to explain, “When a retrovirus infects a germ cell, which makes sperm and eggs, or infects a very early-stage embryo before the germ cells have arisen, the viral DNA is passed along to future generations.”
So Zika could possibly be a retrovirus that infects male and/or female germ cells which are then passed to the embryo through sperm and/or eggs. To me, this is an amazing discovery of a live virus of today manipulating the human genome. The question is, can the human body eventually produce embryonic viral proteins to fight the Zika virus in the future?
What this means for us now is for not only pregnant women to apply copious amounts of insect repellant, but everyone who travels to Brazil to participate or watch the games in the summer of 2016. Yes, you could be attacked by air and sea!
More importantly, what does this mean for the future of humankind? We are definitely in an evolutionary race against possibly the highest life forms on the planet, viruses. When viruses start manipulating humankind’s reproduction, not only directly, but indirectly as government’s ask their people to not produce, can we stay ahead?