The mosquito-borne Zika virus has largely disappeared from news headlines, and probably for good reason. The epidemic that started in South American in 2015, and threatened to spread to the United States, turned out to be a non-crisis for Americans. Zika, which is believed to cause microcephaly in babies, never gained a foothold in the United States.
But while fears were high, the government made some rather brash decisions to control mosquito populations that hadn’t even been infected with Zika. As a precautionary measure, they sprayed the environment in Florida and South Carolina with a chemical called “naled,” a pesticide so toxic that it’s banned in the EU. And they did so with little input from the public.
There’s a kind of dark irony that accompanies that decision, because the government was trying to stop a virus that causes birth defects. So in turn, they sprayed the environment with a chemical that also hurts babies. That’s the finding of a recent study, which examined babies in China who had been exposed to very low levels of naled.
The study, whose authors say it is the first to examine real-world exposure to naled outside workplace accidents or lab experiments, used cord blood from 237 mothers who gave birth to healthy babies at a hospital in southeast China between 2008 and 2011. At six weeks, the babies displayed no problems. But at nine months, the babies suffered from slight problems with coordination, movement and other motor functions.
The University of Michigan study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environment International on Thursday.
While the study provided only a close snapshot of a particular group of mothers, the authors say it suggests the need to take a closer look at using naled to fight mosquitoes, particularly since problems surfaced at lower exposure levels than previous studies.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since previous animal studies involving naled have suggested that it could drastically shrink the brains of infants.
Leave it to the government to combat a virus that shrinks the brains of infants and reduces motor function, by spraying a chemical that probably shrinks the brains of infants and reduces motor function.