Recently there have been numerous news reports about the spread of the Zika virus through Central and South America. This disease is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and its mild rash-like symptoms have not drawn much attention until now. Within the last year scientists have observed a strong correlation between this disease and a spike in children born with a birth defect called microcephaly. Brazil has been particularly hard hit, but the disease is spreading fast and has reached much of the warmer parts of the Americas. These mosquitos can breed in a tiny amount of standing water and the slums of Brazil and other countries are the perfect locations for this epidemic. Many of these "shanty towns " do not have sewer systems or good sources of clean drinking water. Rain that falls, collects in puddles and abandoned trash like plastic cups. The mosquitos have a perfect habitat for their life-cycle that only takes a few days. In the United States cases of Zika have been reported recently in Florida, Texas and Hawaii, all the result of travel to Brazil or other areas where the disease is prevalent.
Why should we care? Recent evidence suggests that the babies carried by pregnant women are at extreme risk of acquiring the virus. This pathogen apparently has the effect of creating the retardation/birth defect we call Microcephaly where the head and the brain are much smaller than normal. More than 4000 babies have been born in Brazil with this condition.
In my opinion the biggest problem facing the world today is too many people fighting over our limited natural resources of clean fresh water, land, clean air, fertile soil and those needed to sustain our modern economy. The wars in the Middle East and the ensuing migration crisis are just the most recent reminders of what we as a species face on this piece of space dust we call Planet Earth.
Some are predicting that the human population could double from 7.3 billion currently to as high as 15 Billion in a hundred years. The planet's resources can not sustain that level of increase.
In the natural world the systems maintain a balance between resources and living creatures by a process called "Survival of the Fittest". We humans also have followed this difficult path for most of our existence. However starting with the development of agriculture about 10,000 years ago we had a more stable food supply and villages and cities gave us more security. The result was a marked increase in the number of humans on the planet. Now with the advent of modern medicine almost everyone survives. People are just "not dying anymore".
As I see it the human species has a choice. The intelligent way to proceed would be to institute birth control and family planning worldwide. The UN, the United States and other countries have moved in that direction, but some cultures and religious groups are resisting the effort. No one wants to see the death rate rise, but if the countries of the world do not take it upon themselves to solve this problem, than the natural systems will do it for them. There are a lot of creatures "out there" that want to "eat us" and one of these days........
Here comes Zika. If this disease is as bad as it appears to be, it could have a real dampening effect on human population growth. The prospect of millions of babies being born with microcephaly or other birth defects as a result of a Zika infection, has sent shock waves through the medical community worldwide, Our government has requested more than a Billion $ to deal with this disease and women who are pregnant are being cautioned not to visit areas in the "Zika Zone".
It is too early to predict what will happen in this situation, but the economic ramifications of this disease could be devastating. Any person going to see the Olympics in Brazil in the Summer of 2016, will have to factor into their thinking that there is a real possibility of contracting Zika. Are people willing to take the risk of getting sick and potentially destroying an unborn child? Already the Brazilian government has panicked and is using its military to spray insecticide and do other things to try to get rid of the mosquitos---this may do more harm than good. The economy of Brazil is already in trouble and this is not going to help.
On a human level this is a tragedy The recent Time magazine photo, of a young Brazilian couple with their microcephaly child, was heart wrenching. As this disease continues to spread, millions of couples across the planet will face the difficult choice of postponing having a child or face the risk of bringing a child into this world who faces a life full of problems.
There is NO quick fix. No cure or treatment. No vaccine. There is not even a reliable test for this disease. I believe it will take years to bring this pathogen under control. At this point experts indicate that vector (mosquito) control is the best way forward. However, new information indicates that the virus can not only pass from mother to child but also between sexual partners as well. If this proves to be true, then this disease can spread without mosquitos which makes it a threat to the human population world wide.
Through the long history of Planet Earth populations of living things have been controlled by what we call limiting factors. Limiting factors include available food or water, a disaster like the dinosaurs suffered, a change in climate, invasion by a new species or a disease.
It is my view that we will shortly know if the Zika virus is going to be a limiting factor in the continued population growth of the human species on Planet Earth.