This was a week of confusing information about the Zika virus epidemic, which the World Health Organization has described as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”.
In a smoking-gun case report in the New England Journal of Medicine, Slovenian clinicians said that they had found the virus in the aborted remains of a baby with microcephaly whose mother had contracted the disease in Brazil. There have been a few other cases which also point to the virus as a direct cause of serious foetal abnormalities.
The situation is serious enough to cancel the Olympics scheduled for July in Rio de Janeiro, contend bioethicist Art Caplan, of New York University Langone Medical Center, and Lee H. Igel, of New York University. Given the risk to pregnant women, hold them is “irresponsible”. They write in Forbes:
By the time the Games roll around, many fans aren’t likely to attend. The media will report on nothing but mosquitoes and birth defects, more than a few athletes and coaching staffs will balk at competing in Rio, and Brazil will be sinking further into debt trying to battle an epidemic while paying for the Games. The IOC needs to either move the Games, postpone them, or cancel them. Prevention is the best course in the face of a serious threat to humanity.
However, there is also some evidence that the correlation of microcephaly with the Zika virus is a result of heightened awareness of the birth defect.
- A report from the Latin American Collaborative Study of Congenital Malformations suggests that the link between microcephaly and Zika may be due to “active search and over-diagnosis”.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.