Sunday, February 21, 2016

What About the Zika Virus?

The Zika virus has been gaining attention rather recently. There have been two cases reported in the U.S., but this disease is far more common in South America. As of now, there are an estimated one or two cases per 100,000 people (Washington Post).

The two cases brought into the U.S. were of 80 passengers returning from another country. There has also been a case reported in Puerto Rico (Washington Post).

The Zika virus causes microcephaly, "unusually small heads and damaged brains," in infants. There were a surge of these cases in Brazil, when doctors began to notice a trend. Zika combined with other viruses can lead to this effect; Zika is the main cause, however (NYT).

Symptoms include rash, fever, joint pain, and red eyes (NYT). What's even more alarming, though, is Zika has now been found to lead to paralysis as well as the previously mentioned effects. In Colombia, one of five (severe) cases in the past 6-weeks is that of a 10 year old girl who has lost function in her legs (Washington Post).

1. Zika is relatively new. Is it like the Ebola epidemic, in that the "scare will blow over," so to speak?
2. If so, why? If not, how is Zika different?



Janet Liu said...

I've been monitoring Zika-related news on Times Live (South Africa's daily news site; Virginia, are you getting this? ;)) recently and comparing it to Zika news from the US. I think it's odd that the articles on Times Live are far less detailed or shock-inducing than those from the US, even though South Africa discovered its first case just last week, when a Columbian businessman got infected despite their extensive decontamination precautions. I predicted that Zika would generate less of a stir than Ebola in the US--even though there are some scary case studies, it seems like most people recover eventually with proper health care, or at least, that's what Times Live says. Moreover, the virus is indeed linked to microcephaly, but only if a pregnant mother is infected prior to giving birth. But while I've seen articles depicting a gruesome photo of a microcephalized baby from Pittsburgh, Times LIVE has done little since their first case besides posting the same article ("Irradiated mosquitoes to help zap Zika's power") (Link below) twice in the same week. Given that parts of Africa were the sites of Zika outbreaks in the past, I'm surprised that Times isn't covering it more thoroughly, and it brings to mind some media points from last chapter. Being that it is a daily paper, Times should be have some significant measure of influence and ought to be responsible for disseminating reliable news, especially when it's been ranked by OpenNet Intitiative as being "free of digital media censorship." Why does it seem like they're watering down the issue? Does this speak to Times's bias, and do they have an interest (especially considering Jacob Zuma's turbulent position) in keeping their readers more passive than they should be? Or is the Times just not that interested in serious news (it does write quite a few fluff pieces)? Feel free to check out Times Live and respond, I'd love that!

Elliot Quan said...

While Zika does present a dangerous threat, the threat is not so much immediate since the direct symptoms manifest themselves in newborns, and not everyone is a mother giving birth so we don't really notice the spread of the disease as we would, say, Ebola.

I think that we as a United States tend to emphasize/blow up foreign issues moreso than other countries. Perhaps that's just part of our social nature, but maybe we're right to direct as much attention and raise as many eyebrows as possible before this actually becomes a large-scale pandemic.

In response to Janet I think the Times Live is not so much watering down the issue as it is failing to emphasize it. Comparatively, the US has over a dozen cases of Zika that have affected atleast one child (Which is sure to spur public reaction), while South Africa has no such impetus. Maybe in time their response may differ, but nevertheless it's interesting how their health minister emphasized how Zika was not a threat at all.

Carolyn Ku said...

In response to Caroline's first question, I disagree with the phrasing that the Ebola scare "blew over." This phrasing makes it seem like Ebola is still a major epidemic, but that people are no longer paying it any attention. In reality, Ebola has been mostly controlled and all known chains of transmission have been controlled (see first link.) Thus, people are not as scared of Ebola because the epidemic has been handled, and while there are flareups, they are being contained.

I agree with Elliot that the Zika virus "scare" isn't as big as the Ebola scare was last year because the symptoms are not as gruesome or deadly. However, it is possible that Zika will continue to become a bigger and bigger story as we learn more about it. For example, there is evidence that Zika could be sexually transmitted (see second link below), and if more cases present themselves Zika could become an even bigger problem. Hopefully, unlike the Ebola virus, Zika will be contained before it causes thousands of deaths or becomes a global pandemic.


Caroline Mameesh said...

I definitely agree with Elliot that the US "blows up" issues more than other countries would, in response to Janet's point. Fear sparks action, and the US will play that up as much as possible, when possible. That is why, perhaps, they present issues such as Zika in a scarier light.
Carolyn; I also read that Zika may be sexually transmitted. This would certainly increase the spread of the virus, and, if unconfined, the virus could spread more than we had previously anticipated. While Zika isn't as worrisome as Ebola, it cannot be ignored. Large things often start small. Further, I still believe the scare blew over. While it may be relatively contained now, the Ebola hype did not last very long, even when it was in its heat. The national Ebola headlines got replaced quickly, even before Ebola itself was seriously addressed.