On Jul. 29, there were two confirmed reported cases of the Zika virus in the Wynwood area, north of downtown Miami. From then, the risk of being infected is a growing concern for many Florida residents. The Zika virus is spread mostly through the bite of an infected mosquito. And due to this type of mosquito species, it is attracted to the already hot tropical climate of Florida and is growing in number, increasing the likelihood of being infected.
In order to keep the public informed, the Florida Department of Health (FHD) releases daily updates, which includes in-state Zika case counts. According to the FHD, the total of infected cases is 835. Of that 835, 660 are travel-related, 79 are non-travel related, 86 are cases involving pregnant women, and 10 are out-of-state cases (not Florida residents).
Aware of the recent outbreaks, Mr. Francis Orlando, instructor of political science at Saint Leo University, took it upon himself to conduct an online survey about the growing concern of the Zika virus. Through Aug. 14-18 Orlando conducted the poll enlisting 1,500 Floridians, which comprised of a demographic representation of the population.
According to the Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey, more than three-quarters of the 1,500 Floridians surveyed were alarmed about the virus. Statistics taken from the poll show that 79.3 percent of participants were “very” or “somewhat” concerned, 11.1 percent were “somewhat unconcerned,” 7.5 percent were “not at all concerned,” and 2.1 percent were unsure. What Orlando opted to get from the survey conducted was to raise awareness of the virus and make the views of the perceived threat known to the general public.
“The Zika virus is not new in its existence. It’s presence in Florida does not scare me,” said Junior Daniela Alonso.
Andrina Pierre, sophomore, however, feels differently. She explains that her growing concern lies in the mosquitos liking to the tropical weather of the state and the large number of lakes and water bodies in Florida that allow the Zika infected mosquitos to breed.
Yegeta Telila, an international sophomore student, was very vocal in his concerns about the virus. “I am concerned, because the method of transmission is different to that of any virus that causes epidemics. Because it is transmitted through mosquitos, and as we all know there are a lot of mosquitos in Florida, there is no way to identify which mosquito is carrying the virus” he said. “And, since we get stung by mosquitos on a daily basis, the chance of us knowing we are infected until we actually are in the latter stages of infection, is actually high. And, considering the effects it might have on my latter children and on my health itself then there is a legitimate reason to be concerned.”
While compiling results from the poll, Orlando consulted with Dr. Cheryl Clauson, an assistant professor of biology at Saint Leo University. She explained there is nothing to worry about, as long as people are healthy and are not thinking about bearing children. However, if one is thinking about bearing children, one should consider the birth defects, which are one of the many concerns with Zika.
Clauson explained that the virus affects the neural progenitor cells, which are important for the development of the brain cells. The virus causes the cells to stop dividing and kill the cells that have already differentiated (cells divided into specialized cells). The virus also affects the immune response so there is no way of replacing the cells that have already died. This results in the birth defects of babies.
She also further explained her personal views on the negative effects of the virus, if it is not controlled locally. She believes the virus will affect Florida’s tourism industry, regular travels, the population, and the local economy. With the virus prevalent in the state, travel is restricted and travelers restrict themselves from visiting certain parts of Florida. This affects not only business but also the desire of new, previous and current tourists who normally boosts the economic growth of the state. Clauson also stated that there could also be a population age gap, with women opting to wait to have children.
A vaccine, however, could be developed in the future. According to NBC news, there was a positive result in researchers’ recent test in monkeys. Researchers at Harvard’s Beth Israel Hospital and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research have developed three experimental vaccines. Due to the urgency of the situation, one of the three experimental vaccines will progress to clinical trials, with hopes for testing in people by Oct.
With the release of the information from the poll, people will be more aware of what they themselves can do to prevent infection. And, local governments can set aside funding for eradication of and prevention of the mosquitos carrying the virus.