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5 of the biggest myths and misconceptions about Zika, debunked

Submitted by Tech Insider on August 15, 2016 - 5:59pm

Material to prevent Zika infection by mosquitoes are displayed at the 69th World Health Assembly at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

This past year, the Zika virus has emerged as global problem.

The virus, which is primarily transmitted via mosquitoes, has been spreading around the Americas since May 2015. One of the reasons it's been so troubling is that it's a cause of a serious birth defect called microcephaly, in which the head of babies whose mothers have been infected with Zika during pregnancy are abnormally small. That's tied to a number of developmental problems.

As with many emerging diseases, the misinformation about Zika started circulating almost as quickly as the disease itself.

We're still learning more and more about the virus and how it affects people, but for now here are some of the biggest myths and misconceptions we've heard about Zika.

MYTH: GMOs are to blame for the recent Zika outbreak across the Americas.

Diseases like Zika, dengue, and yellow fever are spread by a mosquito called Aedes aegypti. To try and stop the spread of disease, scientists have started looking into how to quell mosquito populations.

One interesting idea to fend off the disease-carrying bugs comes from a company called Oxitec, which genetically modifies male mosquitoes to carry a lethal gene. Those bugs mate with female mosquitoes and pass on the gene, which kills little baby mosquitoes before they ever mature into adults. As the modified bugs breed more and more, the mosquito population shrinks overall.

But, because the mosquitoes were put into action in 2015, right around the time Zika started hitting the Americas, some folks jumped to the conclusion that the two events were linked. That's in spite of the fact that there has been no evidence of this whatsoever. Snopes pointed to a single comment on a sub-reddit appropriately called "conspiracy" as the origin of this pernicious rumor. (Zika itself was first identified in 1947.)

If anything, genetically modified mosquitoes will actually help us prevent Zika from spreading by reducing the number of mosquitoes flying around.

MYTH: Zika can spread by kissing.

While there have been cases of sexually transmitted Zika, both from male to female, male to male, and female to male, for the most part it is still spread by mosquitoes, who pick it up from the blood of one individual and transmit it to another. 

"It's a disease transmitted through sex, but certainly at this point we wouldn't carry it to say it's a sexually transmitted disease," Dr. Robert Segal told Business Insider during a Facebook Live session.

So far, public health officials believe the main ways it could be transmitted are through blood (either mosquito or possibly blood transfusion), semen or vaginal fluid, or while a mother is pregnant.

The virus has been detected in urine and saliva, but the CDC says there is "no evidence" it can be passed along via kissing. Mothers have also been encouraged to keep breastfeeding, as there haven't been any reported cases of breast milk transmitting Zika.


MYTH: Pesticides are responsible for Zika.

Another conspiracy theory about the most recent Zika outbreak hit the internet in February. It claimed that a pesticide being used to kill mosquitoes was linked to the cases of microcephaly, not the Zika virus itself. 

The chemical, Pyriproxyfen, messes with the hormones that help mosquito larvae hatch (an exchange that doesn't happen in human births). Plus, it doesn't absorb into our bodies that well.  "A person would have to drink well over 1,000 liters of water a day, every day, to achieve the threshold toxicity levels seen in animals," Ian Musgrave, a senior lecturer in the medical school at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in February.

The CDC said in April that Zika is officially a cause of microcephaly.

See the rest of the story at Tech Insider