The Zika virus is a top story in the news and with good reason. It can cause microcephaly in newborn babies whose mothers are bitten by an infected Aedes mosquito in the first trimester of pregnancy. These babies have smaller than normal heads and are likely brain damaged. It’s scary; the results are devastating.
As a dad
I have another perspective on this news story, as a parent and as a physician in environmental medicine. I have a daughter who was born 25 years ago with hydrocephaly. She had a larger than normal head because the natural flow of fluid in her brain was blocked. It accumulated, squashing and permanently damaging her brain. She was left with physical, visual and cognitive impairments. I am one more parent who knows first hand the experience of this kind of devastating news. The emotional pain was intolerable for our whole family and changed our lives forever.
As a doctor
In my professional life, I have reviewed hundreds of articles on the effects of environmental chemical exposures on unborn children; dangers that are not obvious to us because there is no sudden and unexpected impact. Yet, these repeated exposures occur every day, and are geographically far more reaching than the Zika virus is right now. All of us, including pregnant women and unborn children, are being exposed to environmental toxins. If these exposures occur in the developing brain at the wrong time, there is reprogramming of development and subsequent damage. Just like the Zika virus – wrong place at the wrong time.
When parents start to realize that their child isn’t reaching appropriate milestones, they become gripped with worry as they start along the long road of dealing with a child who is challenged. Scientific data supports the fact that now 1 out of 6 children has a disability ranging from the autistic spectrum to asthma. There is a strong and increasing body of scientific evidence pointing to environmental pollution as one of the drivers of this change There’s also an environmental impact on gene functioning, so that now there is greater number of children with chronic disease. More devastating news for some parents to endure.
Thanks to diligent reporting, women who are pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant, are staying away from countries where Zika is currently a problem. How many of these women are aware that as they sit in traffic on the way to work, as they enter a bathroom sprayed with air freshener, as they put fabric softening sheets in their drier, spray on their perfume, ingest their lipstick, or eat highly processed foods – I can go on and on – that they continually add to the load of pollutants in their bodies and increase their children’s chances of developing a chronic condition early in life?
The sudden and dramatic impact of the Zika virus makes it newsworthy. As an environmental doctor I ask – where should your environmental health information come from? The news media? Your family doctor? The government? How are you getting yours?