In backgammon there’s a cube marked with 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32 – it indicates the stakes for the game. Initially, either player may turn to cube to 2 in effect indicating that he or she thinks he has a winning advantage and asking the opponent to resign if agreed OR to accept the cube and continue but at doubled stakes. If the cube is accepted the acceptor also has the right to subsequently double the stakes again.
The Zika virus, known as ZIKV to its enemies (it has no friends), is a flavivirus related to yellow fever, dengue, West Nile, and Japanese encephalitis viruses. It was identified in a monkey in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947. As time went on it became clear
1. the virus could attack humans, typically via bites by Aedes mosquitoes.
2. the virus was present in at least six African countries
3. it was the same virus present in India, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and other Asian countries
For the most part, unless you were old, ill, very young or pregnant, you mostly got a headache, a rash, and possibly joint pain and maybe pink eye (conjunctivitis). In the greater scheme of things that’s not in the same league as Ebola. Even after some serious Zika epidemics on Pacific islands like Yap (Micronesia) in 2007 there’s no cure and no vaccine – and, as far as we know, no one is currently working on either.
As readers will recall, the men’s world soccer championships were held in Brazil in summer 2014. Millions of fans from all over the world came. So did lots of microbes, among them the Zika virus. There was a Zika outbreak in Brazil. This was not welcome news – Brazil has over 200,000,000 people; about 85% of that very mobile population lives in cities; and there are over 500 patients per doctor. We live on a small planet: historically, a mosquito-vectored illness takes from five to seven years to spread from there to us here in the United States.
One might be tempted to shrug and say there are more than 60 flaviviruses and beyond them hundreds of other RNA viruses that attack us humans. Alas, the Aedes mosquitoes are already just about everywhere in the temperate zones, so we would expect one or more Zika virus outbreaks here in the US. Still, millions, even tens of millions, of Americans getting a rash and a headache is not really a clear and present danger to national security.
Physicians and researchers in Brazil have reported a massive outbreak of babies with microcephaly. The key concept is the microcephaly is being tied to prenatal Zika infections The cube has just been thrown at us.