We do not know that Zika causes shrunken heads

“The message from the CDC is that we still do not know whether Zika equals microcephaly in Brazilian babies. The agency confirms that ‘additional studies are needed.’ In a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Anthony Fauci, MD and David Morens, MD of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases note that there is a ‘lack of definitive proof of any causal relationship’ between Zika and the microcephaly cases in Brazil.

Scientists from the CDC have determined that placenta samples taken from two Brazilian women who had carried fetuses found to have microcephaly tested positive for Zika, and that their newborn babies, who ultimately died, showed evidence of the virus in their brains. Lyle Petersen, MD, MPH, who is the director of the CDC’s division of vector-borne diseases, believes this information offers the ‘strongest evidence to date of a possible link between Zika virus and microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities.’

But Dr. Petersen stopped short of declaring a causal relationship. He said, ‘I wouldn’t use [the term] smoking gun…’ Why? Because correlation does not equal causation.

Some members of the U.S. media seem less inclined to show such restraint. This is certainly the case with [Alexandra] Sifferlin [and her TIME article ‘U.S. Launches ‘Full-court Press’ for a Zika Vaccine’], who is more than glad to point to Zika as the smoking gun, and thereby fuel the process of irresponsibly transforming what is still just a theory into something else.

Soon, other reporters, editorial writers and news commentators may be tempted to follow suit and treat the Zika-microcephaly connection as a scientific fact, a done deal, thus preempting government health officials and scientists to the point where they’ll feel growing pressure to agree with the media and public opinion before finding answers to all their questions, or even asking all the right questions that need to be asked about this evolving epidemic.

It’s called ‘Groupthink’—’a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.’

Should this happen, not only do you leave open the possibility of misdiagnosing the problem, but worse… that the recommended response—be it rushing to develop a new vaccine or ordering mass anti-mosquito fumigation campaigns—may end up making matters even worse. Medical history is filled with examples of prescribed “cures” gone horribly wrong.”

— Marco Cáceres

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