Students to study Zika in Brazil over the summer

Sources for graphics are Center for Disease Control and CNN Photo credit: Gavin Pugh

Be it the SARS virus of 2003, the Swine Flu of 2009 or last year’s Ebola ­—viral diseases break out on a seemingly consistent basis. But Zika came a few years early.

The Zika virus caught public attention in January with the heart, wrenching images of children born with microcephaly, a brain abnormality closely correlated with the virus. As per its namesake, the Zika virus originated in the Zika Forests of Uganda and made its way to Brazil last year. It was from Brazil that reported cases of the virus exploded, with over a million now logged.

A group of 10 Baylor students will travel to Brazil for the second summer semester to study health science. They will get the unanticipated experience of preventing the contraction of the Zika virus.

For all the media coverage the virus has received, non-pregnant individuals have little to worry about. If a student or faculty member were to contract the disease, the symptoms they would experience are similar to the flu. That is, aches and joint pain, vomiting and nausea. Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, has also been associated with the virus.

Dr. Richard Duhrkopf, associate professor of biology, has studied mosquitos for 50 years. He is particularly familiar with mosquitos linked with carrying the Zika virus, commonly known as the Yellow Fever mosquito. The mosquito is black with white markings, and is very common in Texas.

“First of all, you have to take the normal precautions against mosquito bites,” Duhrkopf said. “You have to reduce skin exposure, you have to use repellents.”

It is those who are pregnant, or who are trying to get pregnant that need to be concerned.

“If I were a female, and I were pregnant, I would not go,” Duhrkopf said.

Dr. Eva Doyle, Director of the Master of Public Health Program, is leading the Baylor in Brazil program. She has informed the students attending the program of the necessary precautions, as well as referred them to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s notice on the issue.

Erin Thoes, the Center for Global Engagement coordinator of faculty led study abroad programs, also referenced the CDC.

Baylor Health Services began operating in conjunction with the CDC after Zika became a threat in January, Thoes said.

The CDC notice, which was also posted on the Baylor Health Services website advises “pregnant women to postpone travel to areas affected by the outbreak.”

If a non-pregnant individual were to contract the disease while in Brazil, Duhrkopf advises for them to postpone attempts for pregnancy immediately after recovery. But that may not be enough.

“To the best of our knowledge, a significant percentage of the people infected never develop any symptoms. The majority of people infected never even get sick,” Duhrkopf said.

Even if the individual does not contract the disease, it would behoove them to avoid pregnancy in the following months.