What We Know…And Don’t Know…About The Zika Virus.

Everybody is freaking out about the zika virus. First, there’s the problem of the blood test. Apparently zika can  mimic dengue and other viruses. Add to that the fact that some people are asymptomatic and the most reliable blood test needs to be done within a week of showing symptoms and you can see the problem.

Now we learn that you can catch zika through having sex with an unprotected partner.  There is one confirmed case in the US but there have been a handful of others in the past. Also, it’s not yet known how long zika can live in semen so at this point experts are guessing when they say men with symptoms should wait a couple of months before having unprotected sex.

As for women, they are freaking out about zika because of the pictures of the babies born with microcephaly, or small heads. It also effects fetal brain development. There’s been a spike of cases reported in Brazil but so far, just anecdotal no definitive causal link to zika.  Pregnant women do not want to wait for the science to catch up and many are considering abortions. That’s not an easy procedure to procure in places like Brazil. So one group is planning on setting up a cruise ship off shore to offer safe abortions and give worried women an alternative to unsafe backstreet operations.

As well, United Airlines and Delta are offering pregnant crew members the ability to change shifts so they avoid staffing routes to affected areas. Airlines and cruise ship lines are also offering refunds to passengers reconsidering their trips to the Caribbean and Central and South America. The Red Cross is suggesting people wait 28 days after travel to affected areas before donating blood.

So, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Any vaccine is years away. Spraying for mosquitos and using screens seem to be the best first line defence against zika. Practicing safe sex is also key for anyone whose partner has travelled to affected areas.  The real kicker is that because scientists don’t know how long the virus can live in semen, we don’t yet know how far it can spread through unprotected sex. In other words, you could be having sex with your partner’s other partners.  You have to wonder if all those people hooking up online will now ask for passports as well as clean blood tests.

Yes, I know, practice safe sex. Everyone should, especially with a stranger. But to err is human and I have a feeling this zika virus scare will get worse before it gets better, especially with the Rio Olympics looming. It’s going to be an anxious time, especially for women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant in the near future.  I have a feeling that not only will the zika virus impact on tourism to affected areas but you may also see an impact on online hook up sites.

I am also waiting for the Pope to wade in. The epidemic is in his backyard and the issue of access to abortion is now front and center.

Nor should Canadians feel completely smug. We still don’t know if the mosquitos we have here can transmit the virus of if those which can transmit the virus could migrate north.

There are a number of scary questions to which there are no answers.

For years, Bill Gates has been calling the mosquito the deadliest animal on the planet. He’s been on the forefront of a move to provide low tech solutions to the battle against malaria. Things like mosquito netting for beds. He’s also been interested in high tech answers.  Now some people are blaming Bill Gates and the release of genetically modified mosquitos for the Zika outbreak. I won’t post the link here because I find the claims are ridiculous especially since the virus dates back half a century.  Listen, we know that the more we travel, the more we risk bringing diseases and viruses back to areas that don’t have natural immunities.  Smallpox, cholera, typhus, and measles were imported to the New World by Europeans and killed off as much as 90% of the indigenous populations. I think Zika is another example and the World Cup helped things along. It wouldn’t be the first time that a mass gathering that was designed to bring people together actually made them sick.  It won’t be the last either.

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