A Doctor Explains All You Need to Know about The Zika Virus: Interview with Dr. Joseph Alton Author of The Zika Handbook

August 31, 2016

Dr. Joseph Alton, the author of the Amazon bestseller THE SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK, the New York Times bestseller THE EBOLA SURVIVAL HANDBOOK, spoke with us about his latest publication, THE ZIKA VIRUS HANDBOOK.

During the interview, the doctor provides up to date information about testing, how to prevent contracting the virus, areas that are most susceptible, testing for fathers as well as mothers, how the virus will affect your child’s health, areas in the United States that may experience an outbreak and when we can finally expect a vaccine.

The Dr. Joseph Alton Interview

by Clarke Illmatical

The Zika virus has hit the United States very hard, would you say it’s becoming a pandemic?

“The only thing that’s going on in the United States right now, is an advisory has been given to Americans to avoid the area of Miami, Dade County. That is an unprecedented advisory, in that it’s the first time the Center For Disease Control and Prevention has advised Americans from going to another part of America due to fear of infectious disease. It’s unprecedented in that sense but whether there is a degree of panic, I don’t think that there is. I would almost say there is a degree of apathy among a lot of people, even people in the epidemic zone… I believe that is because the effect of Zika itself is not like Ebola, people do not drop dead in the street. It is a mild illness in most people. It’s a mild illness in 20 percent of people and an illness that has no symptoms whatsoever in 80 percent of people. The issue is, it can have major effects down the road for the next generation…”

Based on my research, the virus can be spread through sexual intercourse. How long is the virus active in males?

“Interestingly enough much longer than the females. The male seminal fluid can carry the virus for more than six months. The male sexual organs are what we call ‘Immune Privileged’ and that means our own immune systems have more difficulty getting to microbes in the organs in the seminal fluid than they do in other organs in our body…”

I know that there is a test to see if a female has the virus. Why isn’t there one to test males?

“Because of the lack of availability. Testing is expensive costing $150 - $500… free testing is only available to those who are at the highest risk, those would be pregnant women… the tests are not easily available, although they are much more available now than they were a year ago, when they were only available at the National Institute of Health. Now, they’re available in every state, but who gets them is still determined by the health department of the local municipality…”

Can you discuss microcephaly?

“Microcephaly is a condition where a brain fails to develop in a normal fashion, causing a lag in the measurement of the baby’s head. But especially by ultrasound tests or by sonogram tests, as the fetus grows and the head growth of the fetus lags well behind the other natural parameters that are measured during a pregnancy. In Zika, it can be caused by a number of different things, viruses, chromosomal abnormalities, things like that. With regards to Zika, it is thought by researchers that the Zika virus actually preferentially damages brain cells and other nerve cells and causes the lack of growth or the lack of development of the brain. This is why microcephaly is a deformity seen in newborns…”

I’m confused, since a newborns’ brain continues to develop after it born, can’t a healthy baby get the virus a few months after it is born?

“No, for the most part, we have not seen that occur. You have to realize, we’re very early in the stages of the research of the Zika virus. The Zika virus only became noticeable to the scientific community just in the last year, there is a lot we have to learn about the Zika virus. So far, when a baby is born normal it appears to be normal, the question is, whether it will reach normal milestones, like walking and talking at the appropriate time, that we don’t know as of yet. It may take years for us to identify that.”

You mentioned the CDC’s intervention. What needs to be done to issue a state of emergency?

“They are making their efforts to issues such states of emergency, the only problem is, there is not funding for the kind of mosquito control efforts, education and research into treatments that are really needed to really gain ground on this virus. Unfortunately, there’s been bickering in the United States senate and it’s made it very difficult to obtain the kind of funding necessary causing the CDC to sort of beg, borrow and steal from other programs in order to do the things necessary, to deal with emergencies as they come up.”

What are your thoughts on the repellents?

“There are a number of different alternatives to the DEET based sprays, I will say that the DEET is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as being safe and effective even in pregnancy, however, other natural alternatives are available, like Oil of lemon eucalyptus which is also a natural alternative, which is approved by the EPA as being safe and effective for pregnant women.”

“The Zika is a flavivirus. It is closely related to West Nile Virus, yellow fever, dengue fever… and a number of encephalitis type viruses.”

Do you think this virus will get worse?

“I believe that there will be more cluster of cases, some in Louisiana, you will see some in Texas and strangely enough you might even see some in New York, because of large Latin and Caribbean populations that are there. A great amount of travel between New York City and points south.”

In your book, you have a chapter ‘Did Zika Mutate?’ Can you expand on that?

“The Zika virus was actually identified first in a monkey, in the Zika forest in Uganda, in 1947… in humans about 10 years later, but didn’t seem to do anything to them. It gave them mild symptoms you can have with Zika today, but it didn’t cause any problems with pregnant women, didn’t cause any major outbreaks. It wasn’t very infectious… It traveled to Asia, and then it started becoming more infectious and started to cause problems with newborns when it hit French Polynesia. Then it became explosively infectious and a caused a lot of babies with birth abnormalities once it hit America and Caribbean… like many viruses do, Zika has mutated into a much more virulent type of pathogen.”

You have a chapter called ‘Understanding Immunity,’ do you think that certain people are immune to Zika?

“Once you have Zika or certain types of viruses that be similar, you might be immune. Once you have Zika you’re immune to it for the foreseeable future. They are saying that if you have a related virus then it makes you have a worse case of Zika, they say that people who have antibodies against the Dengue, those people wind up having more severe symptoms than the average person who gets Zika. It’s a virus that’s only recently received scientific attention and we’re going to learn a lot more about it in a couple of years.”

Doesn’t it make sense to postpone having a child in certain locations within the United States?

“In places like El Salvador, they’re telling women and citizen of El Salvador, not to get pregnant for the next two years. It is pretty significant in Jamaica, they say that for one year. In the United States, they haven’t reached that point as of yet. The are basically saying if you are in an area where Zika causes have been shown to occur locally. In other words, if you live in Dade County than perhaps you might consider postponing pregnancy, or certainly not having unprotected sex for periods of time.”

What content will we find in the ‘Other Theories’ chapter?

“There are a lot of theories regarding why Zika is herding as it is in Brazil, where there 1800 confirmed cases of microcephaly whereas the next highest is Columbia… why is it happening there, why are so many abnormal babies being born in Brazil and not in some of the other countries? Some people have considered possibly the mosquito that has been genetically engineered and released to the number of Brazilian areas can have some effect… also some people believe that recent mandates of certain vaccines to Brazilian women may have some effect on the babies or also possibly, but perhaps some vaccines lost in Brazil were contaminated.”

We just had the Olympics in Brazil, do you think it was a wise move? Do you think the events should have possibly been postponed?

“I believe that was flawed logic to have the even in Brazil, especially Rio De Janeiro… the logic is very simple. Sending a half a million tourist and ten thousand athletes to ground zero of an epidemic, was not very good policy.”

What are your thoughts on this anti-Zika mosquito?

“We believe that the genetically engineered mosquito, the OX513A is what it’s actually called, is suppose to not allow its larvae to survive. It has some defects in its larvae that cause it to die before they reach maturity. When that happens it should be okay. However, this particular mosquito is sterile and causes a problem, only if it’s exposed to a certain antibiotic, called tetracycline. They do give that antibiotic to livestock in the area. If for some reason a mosquito bites a cow that has tetracycline, then this mosquito may actually be able to reproduce…”

Mankind is at the point where we can create genetically altered mosquitoes, why can’t we create a vaccine?

“We haven’t really thought of researching a vaccine with regards to Zika virus because we never paid attention to it until now… Inovio Pharmaceuticals has a vaccine, that has been proven effective in animals. It is now beginning human trials. Phase one of the human trials will take a number of volunteers who will be given the vaccine and the will identify if they have side effects from it. Phase two and phase three are the parts of the research that going to determine whether it actually prevents Zika virus though. We’re a couple of years away from that being completed. I would not expect a vaccine for Zika before 2018.”

What are some other effects for newborns? I’ve seen some with deformed joints.

“Yes, that’s called ‘arthrogryposis.’ It can occur for a lot of reasons. The most common reason is the baby is in a bad position, it can’t get it out of that position in the womb. That leads to a deformity known as ‘Clubfoot.’ The most common reason for that kind of problem is a bad position in the womb… however Zika virus damages the cells that go to the joints and when it damages the cells that go to the joints, it prevents the normal flexing and extending that happen to these joints.”

What have you seen with older Zika babies?

“That’s the thing, nobody has seen an older Zika child because there are only two or three years since the Zika virus has shown up in Polynesia, where the abnormal babies began to be seen. The babies in Polynesia, there are severely disabled. They don’t get better. The will generally have a normal lifespan, because other than the orthopedic issues and the brain issues the hearts their lungs and those things are pretty normal. It has been thought, it’s going to cost millions of dollars, maybe up to ten million dollars to care for each one of these children throughout the course of their lifetime.”

What about the older children who have microcephaly from other diseases?

“Some of them are caused by infections like cytomegalovirus infection, some are caused by genetic chromosome abnormalities. There are lots of other reasons why they can occur but what we’re looking at is a situation where a country like Brazil, that normally has maybe 100 babies like this over a course of a year, but now there are 1800 babies in less than a year. So there is something going on… Microcephaly is a spectrum of deformity in that, you can have a little bit of lack of brain cells, you can have a loss of a lot of brain cells. You can have kids that look a little bit different than others and you can have kids that look extremely abnormal…”

As you learn more about the virus, are you planning on releasing another edition of the book?

Right now, we’re learning so much more about the virus that, I already have posted a large number of updates on the website … people can get a baseline of what they need to know in general… and if they follow our website, they’ll get real time updates… We’re learning so much about the virus, we’re putting something out almost every day.

Keep up with Dr. Alton and the Zika Virus from his website: www.doomandbloom.net

Dr. Joseph Alton author of The Zika Handbook

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