Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

Once bitten twice shy - Zika

1 FEBRUARY, 2016: As the mosquito-borne Zika virus grabs the headlines in Latin and South America, it is now a concern for the entire world and populations in South and Southeast Asia may be particularly at risk. Michael Osterholm in The New York Times laments that, "When it comes to diseases, we have a very short attention span, and we tend to be reactive." While it not 'new science', the NYT article believes that the war must be fought on two fronts: "vector control.. [that] involves both eliminating the places where these mosquitoes breed... [and cleaning] up the garbage to have any hope of reducing Zika infections in humans."

The aedes aegypti mosquito will be a tough opponent as it has adapted over the centuries to live in close proximity to humans, thriving in their garbage and waste water. CNN has issued its clarion call, "Mosquitos have already altered human history before by causing millions of deaths via the spread of yellow fever and Dengue, two viruses that are closely related to Zika."

Bill McKibben in The Guardian, writes about a 'dystopian climate future', warning that "pregnant women bitten by the wrong mosquito are liable to give birth to babies with shrunken heads. Brazil last year recorded 4,000 cases of this 'microcephaly'. As of today, authorities in Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador and Venezuela were urging women to avoid getting pregnant. "

There will be economic repercussions he warns, of an unexpected nature with unexpected consequences. "And so the residents of the rich world will, inevitably, travel less frequently to the places just beginning to emerge from poverty. The links that speed development will start to wither; even the Olympics, theoretically our showcase of international solidarity, is likely to be a fearful fortnight in Rio this August."

The Japan Times says Asia is bracing for the Zika virus but Thailand is standing firm. "Thailand detected its first Zika case in 2012 and has recorded an average of five cases a year, " it reports. As of early February 2016 neither Malaysia nor Singapore had reported any instances of Zika.

Hong Kong, often at the frontline as during the SARS epidemic, is gearing up for the virus. According to the South China Morning Post, "University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung [believes that] . although Hong Kong sees no threat from Aedes aegypti mosquito – an insect common in South America that is spreading the virus – another species commonly found in the city, the Aedes albopictus, could also carry the disease... 'the Aedes albopictus mosquito can spread the virus after it has bitten the patient,' Ho believes."

India's Hindustan Times newspaper writes, "India needs to focus on stopping the entry of the virus in the country because of its enormous childbirth rate as Zika affects foetuses the most."

As The Guardian sums up, "A civilization where one can’t safely have a baby is barely a civilization." – AC