by Patrick Cox
August 1, 2016

As I predicted, the Zika virus has almost certainly entered mosquito populations in the US. Persuasive evidence indicates that mosquitos in Florida have infected at least 14 people, and the FDA has shut down blood donations in two counties. Confirmed cases have been found in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but I have little doubt that it will eventually reach the Gulf Coast where I’m located. One storm could spread Zika-carrying mosquitos into Louisiana and Texas.

As a result of the outbreak in Miami, English health officials have advised pregnant women to stay out of Florida. This will upset Florida’s tourism industry, especially the world’s most popular tourist destination, Orlando. But in my opinion, the warning doesn’t go far enough. Let me explain why.

First, we know that the Zika virus affects people of all ages. Many of us have heard about the heart-breaking deformities and neurological damage suffered by developing fetuses. But older people can contract Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) from the virus.

GBS is a potentially life-threatening autoimmune disease that attacks the peripheral nervous system. It begins with numbness in the extremities. Then, it can paralyze the muscles involved in breathing and lead to asphyxiation. If treated in the developed world, many patients recover. But, they can have lingering problems for the rest of their lives due to nervous system damage.

Our young children are at risk right now

Think this through with me, and I believe you’ll agree that health authorities should be much more concerned about the arrival of mosquito-borne Zika.

Zika’s most obvious harm is to the unborn when infection occurs early in pregnancy. It takes no medical expertise or advanced tests to see the small head size associated with microcephaly.

The evidence, however, indicates that invisible neurological damage can take place even if the developing child is exposed to the Zika virus late in pregnancy. The effects are not as dramatic as microcephaly, but neurologists are predicting long-term cognitive and behavioral problems.

We know that Zika can cause neurological damage in older people and babies who are infected in the last weeks of pregnancy. So, why would we assume that a baby is safe just because it has left the womb? The idea is ridiculous for two reasons. First, the womb is the most protected environment human biologies have. Second, children’s brains continue to develop well into adolescence.

Zika may cause Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis

If a baby is at risk for brain damage a few weeks before birth, we have no reason to believe that the risk goes away after birth. In fact, a Brazilian study found a link with the Zika virus and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM). This means that children may get ADEM due to exposure to the Zika virus.

In adults with fully developed brains and nervous systems, ADEM may mimic the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. This includes impaired movement and vision. In children, though, outcomes can be much worse.

As I’ve reported previously, children who contract ADEM may suffer permanent cognitive and behavioral problems due to autoimmune damage to developing brains and nervous systems. The younger children are when they develop ADEM, the more likely they are to sustain attention and psychosocial problems.

The bottom line is that far more people are at serious risk of cognitive and neurological damage from the Zika virus than unborn children. If you would not visit Florida or the far riskier Brazilian Olympic games because you’re pregnant, why would you put a small child at risk?

Take precautions for your children now

I don’t know why health authorities aren’t talking enough about this issue. Part of the problem may be that it will take many years and comprehensive testing to prove that children infected by Zika have suffered permanent neurological damage. By then, of course, it will be too late for them.

My kids are now grown, so our discussions about Zika revolve around pregnancy. If they had small children of their own, I would recommend against visiting any place where Zika is transmitted by mosquitos. At the very least, I’d be buying insect repellent by the case.

Fortunately, the first human has been dosed in a phase 1 safety trial for a Zika vaccine. I know of at least one other drug that could be given either after infection or prophylactically to prevent neurological damage from Zika. There is also another extremely promising drug currently in animal studies, and I hope to be able to talk about results soon.

Health officials must warn parents about potential risks to their children—especially infants and toddlers. And regulators should stop playing risk-averse CYA games.

There are solutions in labs right now, but you won’t get access to them for years. Here’s why. The companies who can address this crisis must navigate an incredibly expensive and time-consuming regulatory maze that puts the interests of big pharma and government bureaucrats ahead of your children’s.

— Patrick Cox is the editor of Transformational Technology Alert. This article originally appeared at Mauldin Economics.