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Dr. Frieden’s Zika Letter: A False Alarm?

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tom Frieden, MD, recently wrote an opinion piece titled “CDC Chief: Zika is Coming. To fully Protect Americans We Must Have the Funds We Need.”1 As the title suggests, the aim of the article is to lobby Congress for funds to conduct more research on the Zika virus which has been theorized to be causing some of the cases of microcephaly in Latin America, notably in Brazil. Certainly, the end of the article makes no bones about Dr. Frieden’s intent.

CDC’s mission and commitment is to protect the health, safety and security of Americans—and without Zika supplemental funding requested by the Obama administration, we won’t be able to provide the robust protection against Zika that Americans deserve. There is something everyone can do to control this emerging epidemic and to protect our next generation from this newly discovered threat, and we must act now.1 

The money to which Dr. Frieden is referring is the $1.9 billion in “emergency supplemental appropriations” the White House requested from Congress on Feb. 22, 2016.2 3 Of the total amount, $828 million would go to the CDC, partly to perform additional research to understand the “clinical and epidemiological patterns to make [the causal connection between Zika and microcephaly] definitive.”4 The funding would represent a 12% increase in the CDC’s annual budget of approximately $7 billion.5

The problem with Dr. Frieden’s letter is that it fuels the perception that Zika does, in fact, cause microcephaly—a direct link for which there is no conclusive scientific evidence. While there have been some microcephaly cases in Brazil in which the fetus or baby tested positive for Zika virus, there is no way tell if the virus actually caused the microcephaly. This is correlation, not causation, and it is not enough to justify arguing or insinuating a causal relationship. Yet, that is precisely what Dr. Frieden’s letter does.

The letter starts off:

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention we’ve learned to expect the unexpected the unexpected—but the ongoing Zika outbreak has caused dangers from a mosquito bite no one imagined: birth defects.1

To say that the “Zika outbreak has dangers from a mosquito bite no one imagined: birth defects” strongly implies a causal relationship.

In the second paragraph, Dr. Frieden writes:

The reported association between Zika virus infection and microcephaly (small head size) is unfortunately likely to be part of a spectrum of brain damage that results from this virus invading the brain of the developing fetus.1

Here, it sounds as if Dr. Frieden is walking it back a little (“reported association between Zika virus infection and microcephaly”) so as not to commit entirely to the idea of a causal relationship but still manage to create the illusion of that relationship toward the end that sentence (“brain damage that results from this virus invading the brain of the developing fetus”).

The third paragraph begins, “There are many unknowns with this virus…” The fourth paragraph again implies a causal relationship. It starts off like this:

The U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has had hundreds of locally acquired cases of Zika, and we expect that by the end of the year they could have hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of infected pregnant women.1

Toward the end of the letter, Dr. Frieden walks it back yet again, and then proceeds again to imply a causal connection. He writes:

We are working to further evaluate the relationship between Zika and microcephaly, as well as with other neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barré syndrome. With the National Institutes of Health as the lead and support from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), we are working to accelerate vaccine development to fully protect our future generations.1

“We are working to further evaluate the relationship between Zika and microcephaly…” clearly suggests that they do not have all the proof they need to make the connection. Yet, they “are working to accelerate vaccine development to fully protect our future generations.” That sounds like they’re in crisis mode, because… well, they’ve determined a causal relationship? (And speaking of crisis mode, what is BARDA6 doing in the mix? How has the rush to develop a vaccine for a virus that the CDC still doesn’t understand been elevated to a medical countermeasure status, which implies a national security threat?)

The letter reads like a roller coaster ride. It’s dizzying. But the overall impression you get is unmistakable: Zika virus causes microcephaly. That’s a bit disingenuous. What’s worse is that the letter makes no mention of the fact that there are many other known causes of microcephaly. However, the CDC does not appear to be pursuing those. The agency is clearly in Zika mode. It’s almost as if the CDC has a case of tunnel vision.

We know, for example that severe malnutrition in pregnant women can cause microcephaly in babies. The CDC has long acknowledged this, and it says so on its website.7 The CDC also knows that alcohol use by pregnant women can cause microcephaly in babies. It’s on the CDC’s website.7 The CDC also knows that drug use by pregnant women can cause microcephaly in babies. Again, on the website.7 The CDC also knows that exposure to toxic chemicals in pregnant woman can cause microcephaly in babies. On the website.7

The agency also knows that certain infections during pregnancy, such as rubella, toxoplasmosis and cytomegalovirus can cause microcephaly in babies. Plain as day, on the website.7 Then there are cases in which an interruption of blood supply to the infant’s brain during its development in utero can cause microcephaly in babies. Website.7

Dr. Frieden’s letter does not allude to any of these other causes of microcephaly. Remember, these are known causes. Neither does Dr. Frieden explain why so much emphasis is being given to Zika when the CDC has long known that the virus is relatively harmless and causes no symptoms in most of the people who contract it, and only mild symptoms in most others who have it. The agency says so on its website.7

Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus first on those things we know cause microcephaly and rule them out, rather than prematurely scaring the heck out of the American public, particularly pregnant women, and inventing a health crisis where there may, in fact, be none? The Zika scare has already fired up an international race to develop a Zika vaccine that may not be needed, but will assuredly, eventually be marketed as another “life-saving” vaccine that everyone will be mandated to get.


1 Frieden T. CDC Chief: Zika is coming. To fully protect Americans we must have the funds we need. Fox News Apr. 1, 2016.
2 Dennis B. Obama asks Congress for $1.9 billion to combat spread of Zika virus. The Washington Post Feb. 22, 2016.
3 Obama BH. Letter to The Honorable Paul D. Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The White House Feb. 22, 2016.
4 Fromson N. CDC: Strong evidence of link between Zika and microcephaly. United Press International Feb. 11, 2016.
5 Nather D, Scott D. Congress ready to give NIH its biggest increase in 12 years. STAT Dec. 16, 2015.
6 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Medical Countermeasures: Biomedical Advanced Research and Developments Authority (BARDA).
7 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birth Defects, Facts about Microcephaly. CDC. gov.

16 Responses to Dr. Frieden’s Zika Letter: A False Alarm?

  1. James Lyons-Weiler Reply

    April 6, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    • Rosech Reply

      April 13, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      Exactly, and Zika has been around for 70 years. Might we think because of vaccines, diet and unclean water and living conditions? Probably these are at the bottom of the current episode. Small heads/brains are not form a mosquito bite or the natives in jungles would all have this condition. Another way to waste our tax money!

  2. Amy Reply

    April 10, 2016 at 5:15 am

    Is this the latest cover up for vaccine damage, so curious ?

    • Angela Coral Eisenhauer Reply

      September 19, 2016 at 6:51 am

      USA STats for microcephalic births

      2004………….. 400 cases
      2006………….. 800 cases
      Flu shots in pregnancy 2010
      Tdap shots in pregnancy 2011
      Microcephalic babies from 2012? 25,000 a year.

      Way higher than Brazil.
      Tdap mandated for EVERY woman in Brazil, the vaccine was produced at the Butatan Institute, GSK brand made under licence.
      Every pregnancy woman got the shots from May 2015 (when the vaccine was ready)… from 20 weeks pregnant.
      EXACTLY 20 WEEKS LATER MICROCEPHALY EPIDEMIC. It got reported BEFORE CDC, realised, or Brazil Health realised, and too late to ”HUSH IT UP”””

      So do they admit it was the vaccine, find out if it was the vaccine? Or blame a mossie?

      Except CDC left it too late to burn the books, and hide the stats, your own CDC, do not collect real stats, or read them, until brought to their attention, that USA HAS MORE MICROCEPHALIC BABIES THAN BRAZIL.

      They burning the books, removing references now, but its TOO LATE>

  3. John W Bletsch Reply

    April 12, 2016 at 10:55 am

    The CDC officials should be censured for inciting undue and unneeded panic with their unfounded accusations based on pure conjecture. All they see is another Billion dollars in their coffers with more to come. Their investigation needs to be exhaustive and complete before the release findings. This is no better than snake oil salesmen touting miracle cures.

    • SHARON Reply

      April 12, 2016 at 12:52 pm


      • Angela Coral Eisenhauer Reply

        September 19, 2016 at 6:46 am

        You aint fine, USA has MORE microcephalic babies than Brazil…………??

        I recommend women LEAVE USA, and go to Colombia! 25,000 a year in USA………..
        Brazil? 5,000 a year? Brazil has 65% of the size population of USA< you safer in Brazil luv!

        I sometimes wonder if USA is so over medicated, that people, especially Frieden? Just cant do maths anymore.

  4. John W Bletsch Reply

    April 12, 2016 at 11:08 am

    The panic must be halted. Inducing panic where ther is no need is immoral and illegal. This is nothing about pubic health and everything about the Billions of dollars Big Pharma stands to make from yet another unneeded and unnecessary vaccine regardless of the end result on public health. Unfounded conjecture in no way takes the place of exhaustive research on causative effects, especially when there are dozens of know causes of this birth defect.

  5. Donna Marquart Reply

    April 12, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Noam Chomsky mentioned Zika (first discovered in 1947) in a 1993 article published in Z Magazine titled “The Clinton Vision” which had more to do with western intervention and the development of Brazil and the undernourished people in this part of Brazil. As long as the Powers that be continue to assault women with pesticides/herbicides/lack of good clean water – (I read they had put a pesticide in the drinking water in 2014 – to combat mosquitoes) AND there has been a release of GE mosquitoes in this area as well – to “combat” the mosquitoes and make them sterile?

    Who wouldn’t want boatloads of money to pump up and hire more “researchers” who are obviously pointed in the wrong direction. Progress #$%^&*(^%&%^) phooey. Stop vaccinating.

  6. MARY FISHER Reply

    April 12, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    We need a class action against our Government agencies and vaccine mfgs. for this continued terrorizing of it’s citizens with all this vaccine propaganda
    there is no scientific evidence that Zika cause microcephaly—We have 40X more microcephaly in US then Brazil and we don’t have Zika
    Know causes:
    Alcohol consumption during pregnancy
    Severe malnutrition in pregnant women
    Drug use by pregnant women
    Exposure to toxic chemicals in pregnant woman

  7. Citizen Scientist Xileen Reply

    April 12, 2016 at 1:22 pm

  8. Deborah Brown Reply

    April 12, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    Look to Monsanto’s chemicals which were added to drinking water in Brazil. No cases of microcephaly in countries that didn’t use chemicals to try to prevent mosquito breeding. Do not let yourself be scared of the wrong thing. Beware of chemical poisoning…

    • Angela Coral Eisenhauer Reply

      September 19, 2016 at 6:54 am

      Oh there is microcephaly in USA< higher rate than Brazil

      USA had 400 cases in 2004

      VAccined in pregnancy 2010
      Now USA has 25,000 cases a year.

      Much higher than Brazil

  9. Doris Reply

    April 12, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    We have had an epidemic of microcephaly in this country for decades, we just never hear about it. It is centered in the counties surrounding the Hanford nuclear dump.

  10. jim Reply

    April 13, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    To Sharon: Stop with the all caps, and the xenophobic ranting. You’re contributing nothing but a sense of irrational hysteria.

  11. Francis E Aloise Reply

    April 14, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Inciting fear in the population is called “terrorism”. Why are no feet held to the fire over this one?

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