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A little about the Zika Virus and its impact on Puerto Rico

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By Alex Pejas |

The Zika virus has been a hot topic for news stations for the past year. First detected in the forests of Uganda and spread through mosquito bites, the virus remains in the bloodstream of the victim, without the victim suffering any severe symptoms aside from a fever and maybe a slight rash (CDC). However, the true threat is for expecting mothers, or more specifically, their unborn babies. The Zika virus causes serious birth defects to the fetuses, most notably Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes paralysis or severe muscle weakness.

Puerto Rico has been hit hard, the governor announcing a health emergency on February 5th. The Zika virus has spread to multiple tourist locations, near airports or cruise docks, and travelers are being cautioned to use proper protection if returning from the country or not travel to Puerto Rico for the time being. The most prominent issue right now for Puerto Rico, though, along with the recent financial crisis, is protecting its expectant mothers.

It’s estimated that about 80% of Puerto Rico’s population will be infected soon (NY Times). However, the country’s main focus right now is not the entirety of the population, but the pregnant women. To avoid infections, clinics have opened up all over the island wto provide courses for women, educating them on proper protection. This year’s fragrance is DEET, as said by Ismarie Morales, and Center for Disease Control staff members are working to get everyone in on the trend (NY Times). As high school girls make up 20% of Puerto Rico’s pregnancies, new screening is being put into school windows to avoid mosquito entrance.

Hundreds of pounds of raw sewage, which, paired with Puerto Rico’s humid climate, serve as mosquito breeding grounds, are now being discarded. Prisoners are working to dispose of the trash properly, hopefully eliminating large concentrations of the insects. Bans on plastic bags and the encouragement of recycling habits are also being enforced by the government to reduce trash amounts (PBS).

At the moment, there have been 18 confirmed pregnant women who have been infected, paired with 27 affected individuals sick enough to be hospitalized (NBC NY). With the wet, humid summer Puerto Rico is now expecting, the amounts of mosquitoes and rate of infection is not something the government is looking forward to. If their efforts prevail, Puerto Ricans will be able to simultaneously able to dig themselves out of the economic hole they’ve fallen into, but only time will tell.

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