Zika Part 3
Another CDC Whistleblower: Zika Testing
Ok, so maybe there aren’t as many microcephaly cases in Brazil as we first thought. Maybe aerial spraying is more of a publicity stunt and not particularly effective at controlling mosquitoes. Maybe there aren’t that many locally transmitted cases of Zika infections in the Continental US. Maybe, based on past outbreaks of dengue in the US, we’re not really on the verge of an epidemic here. But surely, surely, the CDC wouldn’t be causing such panic, threatening vital tourism dollars in developing countries, causing untold numbers of pregnant women unimaginable worry and heartache – having them contemplate late-term ABORTING of much wanted babies - unless they had irrefutable rock-solid data showing that the Zika virus – and nothing else – is spreading around the globe.
It has taken me a while to write parts 2 and 3 of this series, in large part because the deeper I dig into the details, the gnarlier (and depressing) this story gets. That such life-impacting decisions are being made on the basis of so little data, or such bad data is just beyond mind-boggling to me. So, the question becomes why? What’s always the answer – the $$$s. The CDC relentlessly hounded Congress for $1.9 billion to “fight” this “epidemic”, even though they have $2.7 billion leftover from their last panic room freak show, Ebola (which barely touched America). Aided by an always-willing-to-hype-a-disease-story main stream press, who knows how much the CDC has stashed away from previous “epidemics” – West Nile Virus, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, SARS, MERs……? This model seems to have served them very well in the past, so it’s no surprise they're using it again.
However, this time Congress was a little slower to bite on this bait, forcing the CDC to threaten to move money around. That unprogrammed $2.7 million for Ebola? Can’t touch that – that wouldn’t stir the panic pot. No, the CDC threatened to take money from public health programs where there is real illness and disease – HIV/AIDs, heart disease, cancer research and then one of their favorites – the childhood vaccination programs (ok, the vaccine program is only real in that it creates illness and disease – but I digress). This reprogramming of funds within the top public health organization in the US would imply they have a lot of solid information - that the tests being used to confirm that these are really cases of Zika infections are reliable and widely available; the freak-out about this birth defect/Zika connection is warranted because we have irrefutable evidence of the connection; these birth defects are so devastating, and happen with such frequency that it warrants taking dollars from HIV/AIDs, heart disease and cancer programs and research; that researchers have successfully developed safe and effective vaccines for similar diseases. Well, ummm, no, not really - on any of the above counts.
In researching for my last blog post, I was struck by a recurring, puzzling bit of info (Ok, a lot was really puzzling…). Tom Frieden, head of the CDC and Tony Fauci of NIH – the Fear Monger Czars - kept talking about “confirmed cases of Zika infection”. In the next breath, or paragraph, when they turn the talk yet again to the need for more funding, they cite the need for “better testing.” Better testing???? You mean the CDC demanded $2 billion for a disease we don’t really have a reliable test for? I’m shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you!
How unreliable are those tests? Well, that’s another reason this blog post took so long to write – I couldn't find the data – and you know me - I have to have the data! Why is the data so hard to find? A few weeks ago the Washington Post reported that a CDC Whistleblower (Hmmmm, why does that phrase sound so familiar???) has come forward to say the CDC has been using the “wrong” Zika test. Robert Lanciotti, the head of the CDC Diagnostics and Reference Laboratory – who was in charge of developing both tests - claims that the test being used by the CDC and recommended for use by State and Local Health departments, misses 39% of Zika cases. The CDC vehemently denies those numbers and promptly demoted Lanciotti (who has since been reinstated after filing a whistleblower complaint). But if you wade thru these articles, that is just the beginning of the problem. According to its own Interim Guidance for Interpretation of Zika Virus Antibody TestResults, all available Zika tests are unreliable and subject to producing both false positive and false negative test results.
The Zika virus is a type of Flavivirus – a category of viruses that includes Yellow Fever, West Nile. Dengue, and Japanese Encephalitis among others. According to this article in the NY Times, the best way to identify whether you have had a Flavivirus infection is a test on blood drawn within the first 7 or so days after the onset of symptoms. This proves a little tricky in a disease that 80% of people never notice they have. Testing negative with this test, according to the CDC, tells you very little about whether or when you were infected with the Zika virus. There is some evidence that the virus may stick around longer in a person’s urine, but the CDC is a little fuzzy about the reliability and availability of such tests – again, this data-driven Angry Wonk is quite frustrated by the lack of details and numbers provided about these tests. (Hello, investigative journalists – where is your curiosity?)
If a person tests negative for Zika in the initial blood test, but is still worried about Zika exposure – say a pregnant woman perhaps - there is an antibody test available that is not dependent on testing so close to the time of virus exposure. However, this test comes with its own set of weaknesses. People who have had one of the other Flaviviruses (e.g., Yellow Fever, West Nile (which many, many people in the US have had – again, probably without knowing it), or Dengue), or had the Yellow Fever vaccine, can have a positive antibody test without actually being infected with Zika. So a positive antibody test doesn’t tell you much for a person who may have been exposed to other viruses in the same family sometime in the past. In fact, according to the NY Times article, previous exposure can lead to BOTH false positive and false negative results in an antibody test.
Here in the US, to try to amp up numbers and provide info for pregnant women, all three tests are being done – blood test, urine test and the antibody test - with less than reliable, trustworthy outcomes according to the CDC, Washington Post, NY Times and NPR. As might be expected, that’s a lot of testing ($$$$) and has also resulted in a significant testing backlog, leaving thousands of worried pregnant women in desperate limbo. Which for me begs the question – what about in Brazil? Columbia? Were all those cases of Zika in pregnant women so meticulously documented? Again, the information out there is fuzzy. I found some articles from early 2016 saying a new rapid test was on the verge of going mainstream in Brazil, but whether it ever did has been hard to determine.
All of this left me thinking – this is a disease that just recently emerged as a global issue. The current outbreak started slowly in 2014 on Yap – a tiny group of islands in the Pacific, where it was highly unlikely to explode. A disease that 80%!!! (Yes, I know I keep saying this - but REALLY!) of the people who have it DON”T EVEN KNOW! Why, oh, why did the CDC even have a test ready? Turns out, if you read the Washington Post CDC whistleblower article very closely, you will see that the CDC began developing a Zika test in 2007, after a Zika outbreak in the Micronesian Islands out in the vast Pacific Ocean. According to the article, before this current outbreak, the CDC had already spent $20 million developing said, apparently not very reliable test. Hmmmm..... what prompted THAT investment decision? (More on that later -- stay tuned -- yes, there will be a Zika Part 4! Groan.)
So, let’s recap – the CDC has whipped up fear about the Zika virus all year, with eager help from the press, telling us that it is running rampant thru the Caribbean and Central America, nipping at the heels of the mainland US while spreading dangerously thru Puerto Rico. US media outlets have prominently hyped this story, doing their best to scare the bucks out of America. The same sad, tragic pictures of deformed babies have been shamelessly published over and over again on the websites of the NY Times, Washington Post, NPR, National Geographic. Neighborhoods in the US, where few or NO cases of locally transmitted Zika infections have been drenched in useless, neurotoxic pesticides that cause the same type of neurological fetal deformities they are supposed to prevent, in the process not killing mosquitoes but instead killing pollinators that are crucial to agriculture. The CDC has demanded – and received – almost $2 billion to fight this “epidemic” and “crisis” of a disease that 4 in 5 people don’t know they have because it is so mild, all based on a diagnosis that cannot actually be confirmed by multiple lab tests. Yes, yes, THAT sounds like a great way to protect public health.
Next up - of course - time to get your vaccine!
Next up - of course - time to get your vaccine!