The Zika virus is not being spread by genetically engineered mosquitoes, nor is it transmitted through vaccines.
(Article by Meredith Cohn, republished from http://www.essentialbaby.com.au/news/current-affairs/zika-the-myths-versus-the-truth-20160601-gp9gnw)
It also is not part of a plan by pharmaceutical companies to boost sales of a future vaccine.
The rumours, conspiracy theories and myths being shared on social media and by word of mouth are seemingly as contagious as the disease.
Researchers worry that such misinformation could undermine efforts to control Zika’s spread and even the public’s willingness to accept any vaccine. Public health officials are working to share accurate information about the virus and its risks with the public.
“Once people have made up their minds about something, it’s hard for them to change their opinions,” said Mark Dredze, an assistant research professor in the Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.
In a study published recently in the journal Vaccine, Dredze, together with researchers at George Washington University and the University of Georgia, concluded that many Twitter posts on the topic were not backed by science.
Misinformation and outright conspiracy theories have abounded since the beginning of time, those who study the phenomenon say.
They are the “lifeblood of epidemics”, said Dr Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan.
The difference now is the amplification the internet and social media offer anyone with a keyboard and connection, he said. With a growing distrust of medical studies and therapies funded by government and big corporations, Dr Markel said, even more people are doubting and filling the web with alternative theories.
Some people thought Ebola was a government plan to eliminate poor Africans, while others suggested maybe it was a medical trial gone horribly wrong.
Others thought HIV was God’s way of punishing gay people or the CIA’s way to eliminate them.
It’s not surprising that some whoppers about a scary and not-particularly understood virus called Zika are making the rounds and getting traction, Dr Markel said.
In April, health authorities officially declared the mosquito-borne Zika caused microcephaly, a severe birth defect characterised by small brains and heads that has affected the fetuses of some infected pregnant women.
In the months preceding the declaration, Dredze’s team found posts wrongly linking microcephaly to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. That’s the vaccine often blamed for causing autism in children, despite that claim having been debunked widely by scientists.
A February survey found 19 per cent of more than 1000 Americans said they believed scientists thought microcephaly could result when pregnant women drank water containing a pesticide to stop the spread of mosquitoes. But scientists from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found this not to be true.
The survey also found 22 per cent believed scientists were blaming genetically modified mosquitoes for the Zika outbreak, and 20 per cent believed scientists blamed vaccines, though authorities say both are false.
Dr Markel agreed that the myths and conspiracies can be harmful, prompting distrust and fear of treatments and vaccines. Public health officials blamed an outbreak of measles in California among children not vaccinated on parental concerns about the vaccine.
Sometimes it’s not even a conspiracy theory, but the miscommunication of something that began with a kernel of truth, like the genetically altered mosquitoes, which public health officials say may help fight Zika.
“It’s like the old game of telephone, when by the time you pass the information from person to person, the message is very different at the end,” Markel said.
Read more at: http://www.essentialbaby.com.au/news/current-affairs/zika-the-myths-versus-the-truth-20160601-gp9gnw