On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus to be an international public health emergency. A report on NBC News at 11 on Feb. 9 stated that two cases of Zika virus had already appeared in our region. Health officials also confirmed two cases in Pennsylvania and one case in Delaware.
According to the Center for Disease Control’s website, the Zika virus is an illness where only one-in-five people effected will show symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes) and possibly muscle pain and headache. The signs of Zika are similar to that of a mild flu and symptoms last for several days to a week.
The majority of concern regarding the illness has been shown for women who are pregnant or who are of child-bearing age, as it has not yet been determined if Zika is the cause of babies being born with unusually small heads, a typically rare neurological condition.
Aubrey M. Olson, Medical Director of Rowan University Student Health Services, stated that students should be more concerned about the flu than Zika.
“With regards to Zika, students are more likely to get flu or dengue [fever] than Zika while traveling this spring,” Olson said. “The risk to them is pretty low…The virus is probably in the body no more than a month, so theoretically there should not be risk of issues with the Zika virus.”
Olson still recommends that students get all of their vaccines before they travel, and it is the Wellness Center’s common protocol to ask students about recent travel and to warn them about travel to endemic areas.
With the recent cases of the Zika virus being sexually transmitted, the Wellness Center is taking this opportunity to advise students to now, more than ever, practice safe sex.
“We advise students in the same way we do for STDs—they should be [practicing] safe sex and [using] condoms, as there was one case of sexual transmission [of the virus] in Texas,” Olson said. “The big things for people when traveling is they should be using bug spray…cover up, not be near standing water [and apply] sunscreen before insect repellent.”
However, Christy Thornton, Assistant Professor of History at Rowan—who focuses on Latin American history—states that students should not think of the Zika virus as solely a problem of developing countries, but could have relevance to areas in the U.S. south and its beaches.
“Students should use their best judgment and really think about maybe spending [their spring break] in the local community and being helpful than risking infection,” Thornton said. “We don’t know the long-term consequences of it yet, but reaching more and more countries students should reconsider their spring break options in places like Florida as well as overseas.”
Governments in Latin America are responding to the viral emergency as best they can, but Thornton explains that they simply do not have the amount of resources the U.S. has. Consequently, stopping the virus in Latin American alone may be difficult.
“Seeing how big of an epidemic it is in so short of time, [they] could use more help from developed countries [who] have more of a budget to deal with these sorts of crises,” Thornton said.
One of Thornton’s students, Joe DeLorenzo, a history and secondary education dual major, will be traveling to Daytona, Miami, and the Bahamas on a spring break cruise.
“I don’t really know what the mosquito inhabitant rates are for cruise ships, but I hope out at sea, not too, too many insects flying out in the open water,” DeLorenzo said. “Luckily [it will be] a bunch of 21-year-olds [who are] hopefully…not trying to start a family in the next one or two years. [Also], it’s one week of inconvenient pain, and then that’s it.”
Students are still expected to have fun over their break after working so hard during the semester, whether they are spending it at home or far away. However, Dean of Students Richard Jones said his only reminder, especially with new cases in Pennsylvania and Delaware, is to just act wisely.
“It is in the best interest of our community to pay attention to the health advisories that are sent out so they can make sure they are safe and practicing the best precautions in order to be healthy and be successful here at Rowan.”