Brazilian students shrug off Zika; health officials say much is still unknown

Dual byline: Lauryn Rosinski, College of Nursing, Public Health and Podiatry Reporter. Nicholas Garisto, NEOMED Reporter Email at [email protected] and [email protected]


The Zika virus that has caused pandemonium in recent weeks is nothing new to Brazil’s Kent State students.

“Brazilians are just so used to having to watch out for a bunch of different mosquitoes, and tropical diseases, that the Zika virus is just another one of those (viruses),” said Leticia Andretta, freshman journalism student and native of Curitiba, Brazil. “Of course people sympathized with the death and microcephaly cases, and there was definitely some sense of ‘let’s be more cautious and try to eliminate the mosquitoes,’ but I don’t think Brazilians thought it was that much of a deal as the media claims it is.”

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus. Although this virus is typically transmitted through mosquito bites, there is a possibility that this virus can be transmitted sexually. Most recently, an Associated Press article revealed a case of sexually transmitted Zika in Texas on Tuesday.

Tara Smith, an associate professor in the College of Public Health, said that about 80 percent of people infected with the Zika virus do not show symptoms. For the other 20 percent, some potential symptoms include: rash, headaches, fever, muscle aches and joint pains. There is also a potential correlation between Zika and a birth defect known as microcephaly. When affected with microcephaly, infants are born with smaller heads, which could impact their brain development.

Although there have been 4,000 cases of microcephaly since late 2015 and early 2016, it is not proven that microcephaly is caused by the Zika virus, said Smith.

“A few of the mothers and babies did have some evidence of the Zika virus infection, but we still can’t be 100% sure that Zika virus is causing it (microcephaly),” Smith said.

Dr. Thomas M File, Jr., Chairman in the Infectious Disease Division at Summa Health System in Akron, said that another rare neurological condition called Guillian-Barre may stem from the Zika virus. This is when those infected with Zika “develop paralysis in their lower extremities, but that usually is reversible and goes away.”

“In general this [Zika virus] does not cause severe disease that requires hospitalization,” File said. “This [Zika virus] is not like a patient who develops Ebola and is severely ill.”

The problem with the virus is in the growing number of places it is affecting, said File.

“It’s not as if the Zika virus is totally new to the world. It’s been around for decades in other parts of the world. It’s just now we’re starting to see it in the western hemisphere and close to North America,” File said. “I think it illustrates that we’re always going to be at risk from these ‘emerging infections’ that are in other parts of the world.”   

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is attempting to curb the virus’s spread by deploying 220,000 troops across the most vulnerable areas to destroy mosquito nests and pass out informational pamphlets to the public.     

“The government has been doing a lot of projects to try to instruct the population and society to give them a little better understanding of why the virus is spreading and what we can do,”  said Bruno Beidacki, a sophomore journalism student and native of Porto Alegro, Brazil. “The media is also playing a huge role in the dissemination of information because not everyone has access to government officials.”

Brazil has also issued a warning to its female inhabitants. The warning suggests that women do not get pregnant for six months to two years. This warning, Smith feels, could be problematic.

“These are countries that are largely Catholic, and birth control is frowned upon and in some cases illegal. Abortion is certainly illegal in these countries,” Smith said. “To tell women ‘just don’t get pregnant’ for, in some cases, up to two years … (it’s) the best thing public healthwise, but realistically, it’s not realistic at all.”

Some Brazilian students have heard about women’s’ fear of birth defects and even pregnancy from their home country.

“I just read an article on a Brazilian newspaper about how Brazilian women diagnosed with the Zika virus have abortions even before microcephaly is confirmed,” Andretta said. “That raises a lot of concern and tension in Brazil because abortion is not even legalized there yet.”

Brazilian students are also not the only people who could potentially be affected by the Zika virus. Smith said that Aedes egypti, the mosquito species that transmits the Zika virus, is in the southern parts of the United States. Although Smith feels Americans can avoid the Zika virus by using mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeve shirts, she believes they do not need to panic.

“For … kind of young, healthy people in general, odds are pretty good that even if you catch it [Zika], it’s going to be a mild disease,” Smith said. “For people that are staying here and do not have any travel issues, it is really not going to affect you.”

The CDC issued a warning urging women who are pregnant to avoid travelling to infected countries, including Brazil. It also asked women who are trying to get pregnant and plan on travelling to consult with a doctor first.

For doctors, public health professors and Brazilian students, there is still much speculation over the Zika virus and its potential impact. Until further research is conducted on mosquitoes, microcephaly and the virus itself, one thing is certain, said Smith:

“There’s more that we don’t know than we know right now.”