By Kathryn Lilley
Another year, another virus panic. Last year the news media were sounding the alarm bells about the Ebola virus. This year, we’re slowly ratcheting up toward a full-blown freak-out about the Zika virus. Compared to Ebola, Zika is a milder, gentler virus, but its implications for humanity may be much more serious.
ZIka virus, which is spread by mosquitos, causes a mild fever or rash in most people who become infected. Pregnant women who are exposed to Zika, however, can give birth to newborns suffering microcephaly–abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. There is no vaccine for Zika virus, and no reliable prevention method (except to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos).
US health officials recently advised women who are pregnant to avoid traveling to 22 countries where the virus is already circulating. The travel warnings include many popular tourist destinations: Mexico, Puerto Rico, parts of the Carribbean (Barbados, Martinique, Saint Martin), and most notably Brazil, where the summer Olympics are to be held. (Nearly 4,000 afflicted babies with malformed heads were born in Brazil in 2015, up from only 150 such births in 2014). According to the World Health Organization, Zika virus is expected to spread to every country in the Americas, except for Canada and Chile. Officials in some countries where Zika virus is present, such as El Salvador, have taken the drastic step of advising women to delay becoming pregnant until at least 2018.
Just don’t get pregnant, ladies. Really? If that’s how officials are responding to this health crisis, then I think we’ve crossed a line into an area known previously only in science fiction. Zika virus is like Contagion meets Children of Men. In Children of Men, the women of earth had become infertile for some mysterious reason. The rest of the story was a thriller, with a group of people trying to protect the last remaining pregnant woman on earth from the clutches of an evil mob.
Regarding Zika virus, to paraphrase a line from Contagion: “We don’t need to weaponize the virus. The mosquitos are doing it.”
Meanwhile, I’m updating my list of medical thrillers to add to my TBR pile. Here are some medical thrillers I’ve already read, and recommend:
GRAY MATTER by Gary Braver (Highly intelligent children are being kidnapped and “harvested” for their brain tissue)
HARVEST, by Tess Gerritsen (another excellent thriller involving an organ harvesting plot)
THE HOT ZONE, Richard Preston (truth is scarier than fiction in this tale of virus hunters tracking down virulent viruses in the lab, and on the ground)
What else? What other medical thrillers should I add to my TBR pile?