Zika epidemic? Really?

“There is no widely available test for Zika infection. Because it is closely related to dengue and yellow fever, it may cross-react with antibody tests for those viruses. To detect Zika, a blood or tissue sample from the first week in the infection must be sent to an advanced laboratory so the virus can be detected through sophisticated molecular testing.”

— Donald G. McNeil Jr., Catherine Saint Louis and Nicholas St. Fleu, The New York Times

 

So here’s my question. If there is “no widely available test for Zika infection,” then how do we make the giant leap to the assumption that there is a massive epidemic of people who are infected with the Zika virus? Some of the news headlines have referred to the Zika virus as “spreading explosively.” But how do we know that… if we don’t have a widely available test for Zika infection?

How do we know that most people in Brazil and other countries haven’t been living with the Zika virus all along and have been doing just fine, particularly since most people with the virus show no symptoms or only mild ones? How do you rationalize declaring an “epidemic” and scaring the bejeesus out of everyone when there’s no way to know if the number of people with Zika has even increased at all, given that we’ve never known how many people have had it to begin with?

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