- - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Disease, and how to deal with it, is the driving force of human history. It’s all the more dreaded when its primary victims are children because without children there is no future. Though plagues and pandemics are largely scourges of the past, pestilence nevertheless persists. Zika, a virus transmitted to humans by a species of mosquito, was barely known by the public a month ago, but it has already been labeled “a public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Fortunately, there’s an effective solution on the shelf if the environmental ideologues will get out of the way of the lifesavers.

DDT, which has saved millions of lives, not only in other lands but in the United States as well, was banned decades ago because environmentalists concluded that it harms birds, fish and certain other wildlife. Nothing developed since has matched DDT’s ability to eradicate pests that threaten human lives. Prior to its prohibition, the pesticide had largely knocked out the mosquitoes that carry malaria, a disease often deadly in the tropics and in the Southern states. DDT was banished, but disease was not. Malaria has returned with a vengeance, killing 20 million persons since the ban. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 627,000 deaths worldwide in 2012 alone.

Rachael Carson effectively vilified DDT in her 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” stirring an ecological backlash and launching the environmentalist movement. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972 and other nations followed, except for limited use in Africa and Asia. But opposition may be weakening. “Concern about DDT has to be reconsidered in the public health context,” says Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, director of the division of vector-borne diseases at the CDC.

The Zika virus, named for the Zika Forest in Uganda where it was first identified, produces only mild fever in adults, but scientists believe infected pregnant women can transmit it to the children they are carrying, resulting in microcephaly, a developmental malady causing babies to be born with abnormally small heads. Last week, the CDC further announced a link between the virus and Guillain-Barre, which can cause paralysis. The Zika virus was all but unknown in the West until it arrived in Mexico in 2015. Since then it has spread throughout Central and South America. More than 80 cases have been reported in the United States, all contracted abroad, and the WHO forecasts 3 to 4 million cases throughout the Americas over the next year. President Obama has asked Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funds to combat Zika.

Some health officials argue that the spraying of pesticides is a throwback measure unworthy of the 21st century’s commitment to “sustainability,” and advocate scientific trials of genetically modified mosquitoes whose offspring will die before maturity. Researchers are studying whether mosquito populations can be controlled by using radiation to sterilize males before they mate with female mosquitoes. Certain environmentalists even defend the lives of the infectious bugs, arguing that they play a valuable role in the natural order by making life miserable for humans establishing settlements in the rain forests.

Radical environmentalists cling to their belief that DDT holds long-term risks for all living things. Millions of humans, many not yet born, could be saved by DDT. The EPA has saved millions of baby birds by sacrificing uncounted human babies by withholding the solution at hand. DDT should be enlisted in the struggle. Birds and fish are important, but children are, too.

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