30 June 2016

Zika: The Emerging Epidemic by Donald G. McNeil

Summary from Goodreads:
Until recently, Zika—once considered a mild disease—was hardly a cause for global panic. But as early as August 2015, doctors in northeast Brazil began to notice a trend: many mothers who had recently experienced symptoms of the Zika virus were giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a serious disorder characterized by unusually small heads and brain damage.

By early 2016, Zika was making headlines as evidence mounted—and eventually confirmed—that microcephaly is caused by the virus, which can be contracted through mosquito bites or sexually transmitted.

The first death on American soil, in February 2016, was confirmed in Puerto Rico in April. The first case of microcephaly in Puerto Rico was confirmed on May 13, 2016. The virus has been known to be transmitted by the Aedes aegypti or Yellow Fever mosquito, but now Aedes albopictus, the Asian Tiger mosquito, has been found to carry it as well, which means it might affect regions as far north as New England and the Great Lakes. Right now, at least 298 million people in the Americas live in areas “conducive to Zika transmission,” according to a recent study. Over the next year, more than 5 million babies will be born.

In Zika: The Emerging Epidemic, Donald G. McNeil Jr. sets the facts straight in a fascinating exploration of Zika’s origins, how it’s spreading, the race for a cure, and what we can do to protect ourselves now.

"The chapter titled Delaying Pregnancy is so paternalistic I want to set it on fire."

From a strict compiling of information and reportage, this is a pretty good book. However, there are some information gaps he doesn't address. What are the age and gender breakdown of known Zika cases (or if there are sero-surveys, those as well)? If those numbers are not known, why not? What is the symptomology of Zika in infants (bc if adults are getting bitten you know children of all ages are getting mosquito bites)? Is that information available?

Where the book breaks down is in a late chapter titled "Delaying Pregnancy". He lays out a paternalistic diatribe against the CDC and other agencies for not strictly recommending women avoid getting pregnant if they live in Zika-prone areas. And then he makes a "not all men" statement. I almost ripped those pages out of the book. He even quotes a respected ID physician who says everyone should just watch TV for six months. Crass, dudes, really crass. Guess what, guys? A statement that says WOMEN shouldn't get pregnant really ignores a lot of larger social issues. There are no health alerts that tell men they should be actively discussing the possibility of pregnancy with their heterosexual partners and why they should be equally responsible for providing birth control or understanding the wish for abstinence.  And now that there is evidence coming out that Zika can be transmitted sexually (and sometimes for months after acute symptoms have cleared up), all sexual partners need to be talking about condom use for STD prevention, not just for pregnancy prevention in heterosexual couples (this should just be good sexual education anyway...).

The last chapter "The Future" has a sum up that touches on the 2009 swine flu media panic but ignores the 2014 Ebola panic. It then closes with a sad case story about a woman who lost her pregnancy (and nearly died) during the 2009 swine flu epidemic and asks us all to be empathic. What? Try more objectivity, less opinion.

Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.

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