I remember last summer when it was cool enough in the evening to work in our community garden wearing what looked like my blackberry picking outfit, fully covered to keep from being bit. But Madeline Geiger, an NEO College student who was spending the summer with us while she interned with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe's Environmental Department, didn't know to do that. She went out to garden and came back inside with probably 100 bites. She wouldn't do that again, especially now, knowing what she knows about mosquitoes. After graduating NEO, Maddie transferred to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, yes, the site of the orange colored mine water discharge in the Animas River that looked like Tar Creek. She has taken a part time job at the Animas Mosquito Control District, focused on mosquito control due to West Nile. She has learned a lot about mosquitoes, how to identify them and how to eliminate them.
After the news this week about the Zika virus, I believe we will all be learning much more about mosquitoes. This looks serious and life changing. The Journal of the American Medical Association said Zika had "explosive pandemic potential" http://www.bbc.com/news/health-35427493 and the head of the World Health Organization said it is now spreading "explosively" in the Americas, north and south and the island states, with a "steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains which can cause severe developmental issues and sometimes death and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome" a rare autoimmune disorder that can lead to life-threatening paralysis." (http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/28/health/zika-virus-global-response/index.html)
This virus was first found in a monkey in the Zika forest near Lake Victoria, Uganda, in 1947, and has historically occurred in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Micronesian island of Yap in 2007. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35425731 The mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has now been linked to brain damage in nearly 4,000 babies in Brazil, has spread to 21 countries and territories in the Americas, all since May 2015 and is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organization said due to the prevalence of the species Aedes aegypti and a lack of immunity among the population. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-zika-idUSKCN0V30U6
There have been 32 documented cases in 12 US states and the District of Columbia, though all of those people got infected in other countries. Canada asks people wanting to donate blood to wait a month if traveled outside their country. Airline tickets are being refunded for pregnant women booked to affected cities. http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/27/news/zika-airlines-travel-advisory-refunds/index.html
24 countries so far and counting are recommending women postpone getting pregnant for 2 years to prevent birth defects linked to the Zika virus. I have never heard such an announcement before.
Imagine how many women this message addresses. How will those countries also announce to their men to be supportive of their women through this time? How will sexual assaults and rape of women be handled for the next two years? The decision to wait to have your babies if you are an older woman nearing the end of childbearing age becomes ever more a gamble if the baby you carry could be so damaged by the virus exposure from the mother.
What fears are carried by women who are already pregnant? And how will Brazil design specific help for the nearing 4,000 babies who have already been born with this impairment from the Zika? Mothers will love their children, some countries are already understanding the mothers of these children may never be able to work outside their homes and are budgeting payments for the mothers to be the caretakers, if their children live.
What about newlyweds on the dream honeymoon cruise, headed for the islands now on the warning list of countries women should not visit. What about those islands whose living standards will fall when the cruise ships fail to port there for now, or forever.
Life is changing very quickly, more quickly than I had anticipated. Should Zika on it's own, stop the population explosion? Will mothers choose not to have children at all for extended years because of these fears. Or will we have a brand new generation of children challenged in the wide range of ways that warm wetter weather brings due to Climate Change.
The questions are striking. Breathtaking. Mindboggling. Heartbreaking. The brothers and sisters who are never born. Families that never grow. Grief. Loss, Shame.
Maddie and the mosquito control officials and vaccine developers, we are in your hands. Perhaps you have all of humanity in your hands. Dad gum Zika.