Doctors just got a big boost in their effort to confirm the link between the Zika virus and the explosion of microcephaly cases in Brazil. A new study published online in the British scientific journal, The Lancet, suggests that a spike in microcephaly cases also occurred in French Polynesia during its Zika epidemic in 2013 and 2014 and were correlated to mothers who were infected with the virus in the first trimester.
The study, conducted by 12 researchers in France and French Polynesia, provides a retrospective look at one of the earlier reports of a Zika epidemic in which brain defects were diagnosed in the fetus.
"Our findings strongly support the previously suspected link between infection with Zika virus during pregnancy and microcephaly," Simon Cauchemez, Ph.D. and his colleagues concluded. The researchers called for more fetal monitoring, better mosquito vector control and to "provide [better] evidence-driven information to pregnant women." They also cautioned that more data is needed from other countries and studies.
And as is often the case with an emerging virus, Zika's growing vector has inspired new dialogue on ways to combat both its spread and its impact. Along with increasing travel advisories for travelers who may be considering visits to the affected areas, health officials are reminding Americans that whether they intend to travel or not, the highly adept aedes aegypti mosquito already is.
The National Science Foundation predicts at least 50 cities in the U.S. may become breeding grounds for the mosquito -- and its unwelcome tropical viruses. Cities as far north as New York, Philadelphia, Denver and Sacramento, California, are on the vector radar for the aedes aegypti and the Zika virus. Some data suggests, however, that the rapid spread of the virus is being encouraged by air travelers who bring the virus back to central hubs like Houston and Miami, which harbor warmer temps much of the year.
Not surprisingly, the news has also encouraged a rash of business speculations as well. While pharmaceutical companies like Sanofi Pasteur, NewLink Genetics and Invio Pharmaceuticals are boosting efforts to combat recent epidemics with new vaccines, some investment publications are starting to realize that there is a plethora of unmined stock opportunities related to epidemics like Zika and the earlier Ebola virus.
"The more people who hear about Zika on the news, the more investors will pile into any and all stocks related to the virus (pushing them well above their actual value)," Jason Stutman wrote on his Wealth Daily blog. He uses NASDAQ data during the Ebola outbreak as an illustration, pointing out that investors that bought stocks in a hazmat suit manufacturer during the peak of the epidemic came out all the richer.
"Savvy buyers will get in early and out on the peak," he observed, while those that buy and sell late will lose out on the financial opportunities.
In fact, while some online publications like Motley Fool are advising a sensible, go-slow approach when it comes to investing in vaccine companies (after all, it points out, medical companies are still a long, long way away from clinical trials for a Zika vaccine), other publications are revving up the engines and encouraging investors to get ready to buy. And that rising enthusiasm has, in turn, prompted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to issue an alert to beware of investment scams.
Investment scams are common when misfortune or crisis strikes others, says the SEC, and "Zika is no exception." It offers investors a short list of ways to identify "pump and dump" opportunities and other risky ventures that the SEC has identified as scams.
Of course, there's also those refreshing bulletins that give hope in the midst of a lousy prospect of more global warming-suspected problems: The Kaiser Family Foundation's opinion piece on Zika offers snippets of insight on the importance of investing in and strengthening the healthcare structure for communities across the globe.
"The quality of the response to the Zika epidemic [in Brazil] … could be an opportunity to tackle chronic problems for which solutions have always been postponed," the foundation told the Guardian.
If there is any benefit to be gained from the spike of investment interest and curiosity in Zika, it may be the added enthusiasm that is now being funneled into combating the epidemic -- including by improving social and environmental conditions that encourage its spread. And that could be the best weapon we have come up with yet for addressing climate change.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.