“We’re at the very beginning of this story. And the story might change,” said UTSA biology professor Hans Heidner.
The story he refers to is that of the Zika virus.
As all the key players, acts and elements of plot continue to reveal themselves, one thing is clear: we don’t know the entire story yet.
As a virologist, Heidner studies mosquito-borne viruses and how they can be transferred to humans.
He cautiously weighs in on the ever-increasing concerns over the Zika virus.
“Zika is a flavivirus,” he explained, “and it stems from a family of mosquito-transmitted viruses that include Yellow Fever, West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever.”
While most of these viruses are almost entirely unheard of occurring in the
United States, they often occur in regions with warm and moist environments. Places like Mexico, Panama, Jamaica and Brazil are particularly unique for one reason: they are all locations of UTSA study abroad programs.
Lisa Maria Gomez, the executive director of the UTSA Office of International Programs, has worked diligently to ensure clear communication updates and safety measures for students interested in traveling abroad.
“At this time there’s no reason to believe this will affect any of our programs,” said Gomez, who coordinates with the Risk and Safety Office of the entire UT System. Gomez regularly receives feedback from both the office and International SOS, a
global travel security risk services company. Gomez and her network monitor Zika via sources abroad as well as through updates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This Spring Break, Gomez reiterates that her department continues to
“provide faculty with all information” as the information itself manifests.
With 10 cases of Zika currently in the state of Texas, there is a growing concern
that the virus will spread here. “The aedes agypti is a competent host,” explained Heidner, “because Zika needs only mosquito to human contact.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) is looking to new, alternative methods of combating Zika, as the use of insecticides have proven to be ineffective in completely addressing the problem.
Some of the most common symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, eye redness, and joint aches. Despite the discomfort, Zika symptoms typically only last a few days.
The most unique proposal is that of genetically-modified aedes agypti mosquitoes that would help to control the infected mosquito population. Even “virus- resistant mosquitoes” could be a possibility from this venture, said Heidner, though he warns there are ramifications from disrupting the mosquito’s role in ecosystems.
While Heidner asserted that a Zika vaccine is about six or seven years away, even if the medical community were to work at “hyper-speed”, he hopes the public will remember to rely on basic common sense in the meantime.
Right now, concerns are focused on a possible link between Zika and microcephaly, a congenital disease in which babies are born with significantly small and underdeveloped craniums.
As a group of students and staff from the Art & Art History
department prepare for a trip to study muralism in Mexico City “A putative link is strongly suggested by data, but not proven,” said Heidner. “Correlation does not prove causation.”
This is the crux of the Zika story.
Correlation is not causation.
Despite some dots connecting, the picture itself is still unclear.
The elements of story are there, and while they might be familiar, this is still a story untold:the narrative is unknown.
What is known is that CDC, The Texas Department of State Health Services, and other public health entities remain as vigilant as ever in keeping the public informed.
Assistant professor of biology, Dr. Hanson feels one has a greater chance of getting hit by a car in Texas than contracting Zika.
“The most important thing is for citizens to be informed,” Hanson said. Confident in the CDC’s updates, Hanson hopes individuals will not resort to panic and give in to sensationalism.
The best way to stay safe is to use common sense.
For students at
home and abroad, that means wearing long sleeves, opening windows that are properly screened and using insect repellent.
Study abroad programs slated for this summer will continue as planned until further notice, including a Caribbean Literature
and Culture course in Jamaica.organization doctors in the Crop-Sprayed Towns speculate the larvicide Pyriproxyfen is
to blame for microcephaly in babies, women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant,
should still use caution when making travel plans.
Dare to be powerful and live your life. Just be sure to wear bug spray too.