April 2016, Volume 20, Number 2


Stopping Zika in Its Tracks

The Zika virus, strongly believed to cause microcephaly and brain damage in infants, has alarmed epidemiologists since it struck Latin America last year. Isolated cases have now been found in the United States, and the World Health Organization has issued a rare public health emergency alert to combat the spread of the virus.

Local officials are mobilizing a response as well, and in February, the Natural and Social Sciences Department of MDC’s InterAmerican Campus hosted a presentation by representatives of the Florida Department of Health – Senior Health Educator Emily Moore and Epidemiologist Isabel Griffin – to explain what is known about how the Zika virus is contracted and spread, as well as precautionary measures being taken in the community.

“The Zika virus is transmitted almost exclusively by mosquitoes, and sometimes through human sexual contact,” said Carlos Fernández, a professor of chemistry at The Honors College of MDC’s InterAmerican Campus. “The mosquito that carries the virus is the same one that carries other pathogens, such as dengue fever and chikungunya.”

Just prior to the Zika virus outbreak, Fernández taught honors chemistry courses with a timely and practical theme: the use of chemicals for mosquito control. The students learned that solutions have trade-offs.

“You have to balance public health concerns against the damage insecticides can have on the environment,” Fernández explained. “There is no easy solution, and I wanted the students sitting right in the middle of that real-life dilemma.”

Equally important, students went into the community to talk to citizens directly about mosquito control and to distribute informational literature.

“One way to stop mosquito-borne viruses from spreading is to eliminate their breeding grounds,” said Fernández. Easy solutions include removing standing water, clearing gutters and chlorinating swimming pools. “Our mandate as scientists is to share our knowledge with others, so the outreach was a vital part of the class. It was important to develop the sense of responsibility to society.”

Fernández may soon offer a class on Zika control.

“That is certainly on the table,” he said. “And if we are called upon by the Department of Health to mobilize our students to help educate the community, we will join in that effort.”

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