Zika Virus

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The Zika virus outbreak has struck fear in the hearts of many Americans, including our fellow Harrisites. The virus was first identified to be transmitted by A. aegypti, Zika carrying mosquitoes, in Uganda, Africa during 1947. Only now, as it spreads through Brazil and other nearby parts of Latin America, has the Zika virus become of high concern. With no known treatment, it is only natural for both students and parents of Townsend Harris alike to fear the spread of this virus.

AP Biology teacher Katherine Cooper shares her story of how her latest family vacation plans to St. Maarten were canceled. “That’s the biggest problem with the Zika situation- the limited understanding and information,” says Ms. Cooper.  “We don’t know how long the virus stays active in the body after infection or exactly what things the virus can cause. There seems to be a link with microcephaly, but it isn’t confirmed and we also don’t know other problems that could result from infection. If the link with microcephaly is confirmed and a vaccination can be created, will it be enough to protect a fetus? But because there are no confirmations just yet, I simply do not want to risk my son’s future for one trip that may result in him being paralyzed.”

Ms. Cooper added, “We have more questions than answers at this time. This includes concerns for this spring and summer in New York because we don’t know if the mosquitos that carry the virus will spread to the northeast when the warmer weather comes. If the mosquitos do come up here, then it will create a problem.”

Junior Brandon Jagdhar also shares how the Zika virus has impacted his family. “Because of the virus, my sister Brianna was too afraid of dorming in a college in Brazil, a dream she’s had for quite some time,” says Brandon. Many people throughout the Western Hemisphere are taking precautions as the issue becomes more prevalent. “It’s pretty scary if you think about it. Now that it’s in Brazil, it’s not far from us and can easily make it’s way here,” predicts Brandon.

Although there is no known cure, technology is slowly being developed to fight the Zika virus, including the applications of genetic engineering. Successfully genetically modified male mosquitoes have shown to decrease the population of local Zika virus carrying mosquitoes in Cayman Islands and Brazil. A gene drive, in theory, can also be created to stop mosquitoes from harboring this virus or even destroy the entire A. aegypti species.

Nevertheless, more time is needed to find answers and until then, we must take precaution. Ms. Cooper advises her students and says in her closing words, “No one would want a mosquito bite to completely alter the course of their lives. But we should not live our lives in complete fear either.”