The Salt Life: The Herald-Tribune’s Zika Forum (by Jack & Sasha)

On August 17 we were two of about 100 people who attended the Hot Topics Forum on Zika that was sponsored by our excellent local newspaper the Herald-Tribune.

Rather than summarize the points made (check out reporter Maggie Clark’s August 18 article at http://www.heraldtribune.com), we offer here our reactions to and thoughts about what we heard—and didn’t hear.

Sasha:  This is such a difficult issue to present, especially for a city that counts on tourism. On the one hand, panelists encouraged public awareness and taking steps to avoid Zika transmission whether by mosquito or sexual transmission.  There was also support for additional research but also concern that the US Congress did not allocate the $1.9 billion asked for by the CDC. Don’t panic was the general message. On the other hand, the risk to pregnant women of giving birth to a baby with microcephaly, little knowledge about the neurological damage that might not show in the infected for years, no crystal ball for how this will play out and whether it will eventually spread, and with the probability that the lack of funding will delay the development of a vaccine, we should be very concerned indeed.

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Jack:  The potential impact of the virus spreading when people leave the Olympics and return home was mentioned, but one huge omission was Puerto Rico (a commonwealth of the US whose residents are US citizens). Given that, it should be of concern that over 11,000 American citizens living there have Zika, the territory is bankrupt, and the US is ignoring them. If we said that 11,000 people were infected in Florida, believe me, the Congress would act. It is being projected that Puerto Rico may have as many as 800,000 cases by the end of the year.

Sasha:  I learned a lot from the panelists, mostly because they brought together points that were on the periphery for me. For example:

I knew that mosquitoes could infect humans; but I had missed that once-infected, humans could pass on the virus to other mosquitoes who would then pass it on to other humans, and so on. In addition, the type of mosquito that carries Zika likes to bite several hosts rather than feed on one. Eeek.

I knew that Zika could be sexually transmitted, but who knew that although women carried the virus for perhaps as many as 8 weeks, that men could carry it in their semen for up to six months. [Question: How on earth, then, can we be sure that the virus can be contained within Miami’s zone of infection without also “containing” sexually active men? Wow. This would be a new twist on reproductive and sexual freedom, no?]

Dr. Vilma Vega introduced the issue of whether Guillain-Barre syndrome, which harms the nervous system, could be linked to those who had Zika years earlier. So rather than experiencing short-term flu-like symptoms and being done with it, Zika could pose a much greater danger for all those infected.  Continue reading “The Salt Life: The Herald-Tribune’s Zika Forum (by Jack & Sasha)”