“Nature, red in tooth and claw”

The outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil — and now spreading elsewhere — is a salutary reminder that all species of life on earth are in contention with one another.  Because we so often regard ourselves as superior to all other species doesn’t mean that we can be given a free pass. We cannot separate ourselves from attack by other species — in this case, a virus.

In this case also it may only be one mutated version of the Zika virus that’s causing small brains and distorted nerve development to fetuses in the womb.  It may be that the mutation is only a recent one.  Anyhow, it is because the tragedy now affecting 4,000 mothers and children may be on the point of spreading widely that the World Health Organisation has already called it a Global Health Emergency.

Because the disease is carried by the blood sucking mosquito as an intermediary then it has become a matter of killing about 100 of the 3,500 species of mosquito that actually bite into human skin.  Alternatively, the disease tiself can be prevented from developing by means of a vaccine. Two vaccines are already under development in America.

But too much reliance mustn’t be placed on these two vaccines because, like Ebola of last year’s scare, the virus itself will also be mutating into different versions.  If a successful vaccine is devised against the present outbreak then another variant of Zika might suddenly spring up.  It could even produce more severe consequences — though it’s difficult to conceive what they might be.

Each serious disease must be wrestled with as it arises, of course, whether it’s smallpox, infantile paralysis, malaria, ebola, zak and so on but, what should also be borne in mind is that the more successful we are, the more virological and bacterial niches are left vacant in which new mutations will appear.  We’ll never escape the battle  “Nature, red in tooth and claw / With ravine shriek’d against [man’s] creed” (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

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