By KHADIJAH KHAN
As more details emerge about the Zika virus, the level of concern continues to increase not only throughout the world, but by the Tampa community.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Students have had an increased level of concern in the past week as Gov. Rick Scott and State Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong gave an update on how prepared Florida is to combat the Zika virus on Feb. 4.
Scott and Armstrong also declared a Public Health Emergency in four counties with the Zika virus: Miami-Dade, Lee, Santa Rosa, and Hillsborough County. The University of Tampa lies within Hillsborough County where there have been three confirmed cases of the Zika virus, according to the CDC.
The Zika virus is also in several other countries like Honduras, American Samoa and Ecuador which also affects UT students and some programs on campus like the PEACE Volunteer Center Alternative Break to Ecuador.
“I think that there is a need for our office to look into the logistics of what this looks like. However, I am confident in the protocol and leadership of our office,” said Taylor Bennington Director of Weekend Alternative Breaks for the PEACE Volunteer Center. “I know that they appropriate action will be taken and the safety of our student, faculty and staff are our main priority.”
Jennifer Sanchez, the co-Student Coordinator of the PEACE Volunteer Center also commented on the excursion to Ecuador which focuses on conservation and community in the Amazon Rainforest.
“I’m confident that if this virus does become a major issue in the months to come that we will find a way for students to participate in the Alternative Breaks Program,” Sanchez said. “We are in contact with the International Programs Office (IPO) and intend to keep our participants as safe as possible.”
In Brazil, there are reports of microcephaly and other birth defects in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika while pregnant, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Microcephaly is when a child’s head is born abnormally smaller than average and could lead to brain defects. The CDC also stated that there is currently no vaccine for the virus the risks are still unknown.
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus which was originally identified in Uganda during 1947. This disease is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes and creates the symptoms of a skin rash, mild fever and conjunctivitis which last anywhere from two to seven days, according to WHO.
The CDC also reports in their research that Zika can be sexually transmitted and led to the first few outbreaks in Hillsborough County.
The State of Florida has over 20 million residents and approximately 100 million tourists. Due to these numbers Scott stressed the importance of monitoring the Zika virus.
“We must stay ahead of the possible spread of the Zika virus and take immediate action to ensure Florida is prepared,” Scott said. “That’s why I am calling on the CDC to supply at least 1,000 antibody test kits, of which we currently have only 475, and also conduct a conference call with our hospital workers within the next two weeks so they are prepared to properly treat patients and protect public health.”
Scott presented Executive Order Number 16-29 which outlines the safety and health precautions the state will be taking to increase prevention.
As Florida only has the capability to test only .00002375 percent of its population with 475 kits Scott signed Executive Order Number 16-29.
In order to help prevent obtaining the Zika virus the CDC encourages to avoid getting mosquito bites by being aware of where puddles and other small bodies of water where mosquitoes breed, to wear long sleeve shirts, and wearing bug repellent.
While the threat of the Zika virus is still unclear and there is no vaccine there is an unambiguous increase in safety precautions at the university, state and federal level.