Conspiracy theories, wonky rumors, doubts buzz around Zika, hassle WHO

With notable gaps in scientists’ understanding of Zika, there have been plenty of pet theories, ridiculous rumors, doubts, and fears to fill the spaces. Among the ideas circulating as the mosquito-born virus continues to spread in the Western hemisphere, rumors have swirled that Zika’s emergence is the making of mad scientists who unleashed genetically engineered mosquitoes or that it's from drinking water “tainted” with a harmless, mosquito-killing insecticide. Another theory says it's a Scrooge-like plot by the one percent to decrease the surplus population.

While the World Health Organization and other experts have quickly smacked down those more far-fetched explanations—usually with responses that include “ridiculous,” “not credible,” and “no scientific basis”—other theories have been a little harder to bat away as scientists await more data. In particular, there’s lingering speculation that the commingling of Zika and dengue viruses may be to blame for Zika’s suspected link to microcephaly—a birth defect that leaves babies with malformed heads and brains. On the other hand, there are persistent rumblings among media and some scientists that the alarming uptick in microcephaly in Brazil, which is currently seeing an explosive outbreak of Zika, may simply be due to poor medical reporting.

Amid the competing chatter and conjecture, the WHO is attempting to coordinate emergency international efforts to fight the virus’ spread, treat those affected, and keep the facts straight. On Wednesday, the organization put out a $56 million plan (PDF) to get it all done—with the largest chunk, $15.4 million, going to communications. As part of those communication efforts, "[n]ews and social media channels will be monitored and analysed to identify audience concerns, knowledge gaps, rumours, and misinformation,” the agency wrote. The rest of the money will go to surveillance, mosquito control, healthcare for the affected, research, and coordination.

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