The story of the Zika outbreak has been one of uncertainty, with constant new discoveries at every turn. The virus very likely causes neurological complications like Guillain-Barré and the birth defect microcephaly, for example, but scientists aren’t 100 percent sure. Just this month it has also been linked to inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. In February, it was discovered that it can be transmitted sexually as well as through mosquito bites. And the live virus has been found in a patient’s saliva, raising the question of whether it could be transmitted that way as well.
But for all Zika’s mysteries and surprises, we can safely say that it was not caused by genetically modified mosquitoes, that microcephaly cases aren’t a result of larvicides used to kill mosquitoes in water, and that the outbreak is not an attempt at population control by Bill Gates.
Still, these are all conspiracy theories that proliferate in certain sinkholes on the vast swamp of the Internet. But they’ve started to leach into the mainstream to a troubling degree. (Or some of them have—the Bill Gates one, thankfully, hasn’t gotten much traction.)
The genetically modified mosquito theory that seems to be everywhere has been attributed to a Reddit post. But the post led to a Daily Mail article with the headline “Are scientists to blame for Zika virus? Researchers released genetically modified mosquitoes into Brazil three years ago,” and a Fox News segment insinuating the same thing. There have been plenty of other articles on the theory since—debunking it, but still, it’s gotten enough attention now that there’s no stuffing it back in the Reddit cage. (Not good, especially considering genetically modified mosquitoes may be a key weapon in the fight against Zika.)