The mosquito-borne Zika virus is creating headaches for blood banks in several counties where the disease has been found in Florida, according to a new federal report.
The Congressional Research Service report says that on July 27, the Food and Drug Administration advised blood centers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida to stop collecting blood until they could test each donated unit for the Zika virus, using a test that the FDA cleared for use earlier this year. OneBlood, which collects blood throughout most of the state, had already decided, after consulting with the Florida Department of Health, to suspend collections in south Florida.
Two days later, FDOH announced the first cases of a mosquito-borne transmission in the continental United States, originating in Miami-Dade county. OneBlood began testing all blood units collected throughout its service area.
The report said the Zika-related donor deferrals “have exacerbated an already tight U.S. blood supply this summer.”
“Last month, the nation’s blood bankers issued a joint appeal for blood donors to sustain inventories across the country.”
The report described how the Zika virus was first recognized in Uganda in 1947 and moved into the Western Hemisphere in 2015.
“Although most cases of ZIKV infection are mild, prenatal infection can cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly,” the report said. “ZIKV is transmitted among humans by the bite of an infected mosquito, by sexual contact, from mother to fetus, and through contaminated blood transfusion.”
Puerto Rico already has reported nearly 6,000 cases, the report said.
It was on July 29 that the Florida government reported four cases of mosquito-borne transmission of ZIKV originating from one neighborhood in Miami. Those were the first such cases in the continental United States.
Then almost two-dozen cases were reported from the same neighborhood.
Warnings already had been issued that pregnant women should avoid affected regions.
The FDA also had recommended screening procedures, including a set for blood centers where there have been no reports of Zika transmission. There, donations should be delayed if a potential donor reports traveling in a Zika transmission area, has engaged in dangerous behaviors or may have been exposed.
In areas where the virus already has been spotted, donations should be suspended until testing procedures are available, the report said.
“CDC does not anticipate widespread mosquito-borne transmission of ZIKV on the U.S. mainland. However, the affected Miami-Dade neighborhood may be the first of a number of ‘hot spots’ of local ZIKV transmission this summer and fall. In that case, more widespread testing may be needed to adequately protect the blood supply,” CRS reported.
WND has reported the thousands of cases in Puerto Rico already this summer, as well as the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shifted $81 million in funds from other projects to continue developing vaccines to fight Zika.
WND also reported Zika at one point was eradicated in Brazil.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that Brazil used DDT to knock out Zika during the 1950s and 1960s.
“They did it successfully but they did it in a way that would be almost non-feasible today – very heavy use of DDT,” he said recently. “So it can be done. But historically it was done in a way that might not be acceptable now.”
The reason it is not acceptable today, say experts, is because of politics and irrational public fears stoked by a popular environmentalist treatise published in 1962, Rachel Carlson’s “Silent Spring.” The proven mosquito killer was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, even though it had saved the lives of tens of millions from malaria around the world.
Carlson convinced the public that DDT represented a threat to bald eagles. She attributed thinner eggshells to DDT spraying, though the evidence never persuaded many scientists.
Dr. Jane Orient is one of the voices urgently calling on renewed use of DDT spraying to fight the Zika plague. She got her B.A. in chemistry with honors, a B.S. in mathematics, summa cum laude at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 1967, before earning her medical degree at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1974. She also serves as the managing editor of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons and is a member of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness.
“If we do nothing,” she said, “a lot of people will get Zika [and] some will get Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which causes a potentially fatal paralysis.”
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control, she said, calls for not getting pregnant, wearing long-sleeve clothing and applying mosquito repellent.
But it’s not working very well, she said.
“I would say the biggest obstacle to Zika control is unwillingness to do adequate vector control, and refusal to even consider the weapon that worked in the past – DDT,” said Orient.
Created in 1874 by a German chemist, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane wasn’t found to be an effective insecticide until 1939 when Swiss chemist Paul Müller started publicizing its usefulness as an eradicator of mosquitoes and various vermin. Müller won the 1948 Nobel Prize “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several anthropods.”
Use of DDT became widespread. Typhus, which had ravaged U.S. forces during World War II, was largely eliminated. In the United States, sickness and death caused by malaria shrank from 15,000 cases in 1947 to complete eradication by 1951. The use of DDT in Africa and elsewhere proved sensationally effective against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Orient said DDT saved at least 500 million lives without killing anyone except mosquitoes.
“Current insecticides are less effective, far more expensive, and far more toxic – both to humans and the environment,” she says. “After widespread massive use in agriculture, we know a lot about DDT. It was not killing off the birds. DEET, recommended by the CDC, is probably more harmful.”
Less than a century since DDT was first used, the spread of the Zika virus through mosquitoes has left many wondering whether regulators were too quick to move away from the chemical.
“It’s a difficult question, and it’s a very controversial question,” said Jonathan Chevrier, an assistant professor at McGill University, regarding how policymakers weigh the use of DDT to protect public health. “What the Zika virus is potentially doing is terrible. But using any pesticide needs to be considered very, very carefully.”