One of the health-related goals of the United Nations and the World Health Organization for the next 15 years has to do with stopping communicable diseases. Listed under Sustainable Development Goal 3.3, the aim is that by the year 2030, there will “be an end to the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases,” as well as “other communicable diseases.”1
Communicable diseases remain a big threat to the health and well-being of communities around the globe. An example is the Zika virus. The mosquito-borne Zika virus has escalated in several places in the world, and the World Health Organization has declared it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
As with any major public health threat, facts—not fear—are needed, and the church can play a key role in helping to sort out facts from fiction and disseminate accurate information. While there is still much we do not know about the Zika virus, the global community is coming together to share reliable information, and church elders and leaders can help replace fear with knowledge of the facts. Here is some helpful information to share about Zika:
1. The primary source of Zika is bites from infected mosquitoes. These are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses and are known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific. These mosquitoes bite aggressively during the day and also at night.
2. The Zika virus can also be transmitted via sexual intercourse and blood transfusions, and potentially be transmitted by organ donation, saliva, and urine.
3. Zika can be spread from a mother to her fetus during pregnancy, and infection during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects, such as microcephaly, in babies. The factors that may cause increased risk to the fetus are unknown and are currently being investigated.
4. The time from exposure to symptoms (incubation period) is not clear, and only one in five people infected with Zika become symptomatic. Most infected persons will have minimal symptoms. Severe disease is uncommon, and no deaths have been reported.
5. Common symptoms are a low-grade fever (<38.5°C) and a maculopapular rash but can include muscle and join pain, malaise, headache, conjunctivitis, pain behind the eyes, and vomiting. These symptoms normally last 2-7 days.
6. There is no vaccine or treatment.
7. Only a licensed medical professional can accurately diagnose Zika, and the diagnosis can only be confirmed by laboratory testing for the presence of Zika virus RNA in the blood or other body fluids, such as urine or saliva.
8. We do not know if there is a safe time during pregnancy to travel to an area with Zika; therefore, it is recommended that pregnant women avoid travelling to affected areas.
9. We do not know how likely it is that a pregnant woman will get Zika if she is bitten or how likely it is that her baby will have birth defects from the infection.
10. Since the mosquitoes that spread Zika are common throughout the tropical areas of the world, outbreaks are expected to continue.
HOW TO PREVENT ZIKA WHEN TRAVELLING TO AN AFFECTED AREA
1. Prevent mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, sleeping under a mosquito bed net, and staying in places with air conditioning or that use window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
2. Use insect repellants registered by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). These repellants are effective and proven safe, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women. Reapply as directed. If using sunscreen, apply it before applying insect repellent.
3. Strengthen your immune system by getting plenty of rest, drinking enough fluids, and treating pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, seek medical care and advice.
As we reach out to a world that is suffering, let us remember to do it with compassion and care. We are called to “educate, educate, educate, pleasantly and intelligently.”2 May God use each of us to be a role model as we share good news with those who may be at risk.
2 Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry, 262.
Katia Reinert is associate director of the Health Ministries Department for the General Conference.