Project Week and the Zika Virus

Abigail Garber 

If you’ve watched the news, read a newspaper, or even scrolled through your Facebook feed within the past month, you probably have heard of the Zika virus. Zika is a virus that is transmitted through mosquitos. So, if a mosquito bites somebody who has Zika, its next meal will get the virus as well. The type of mosquito that carries the Zika virus is called the Aedes mosquito. These mosquitoes are found in warmer climates such as Central and South Africa.

Very few people who get Zika actually show the signs of the virus but those who do show the signs of the virus get rashes, fevers, headaches, and muscle pain. These symptoms are usually mild and last for a week or so. The major concern regarding the virus is its effect on pregnant women. Pregnant women who contract Zika will most likely have a child born with a birth defect called Microcephaly. Still, not much is known about the virus and its long-term effects. With all of the concern flying around the media regarding this virus, we were wondering if the virus was effecting any of the Project Week trips.

I sat down with Mr. O’Toole and Mr. Mahoney to talk about the effects that Zika might have on some of the international trips. A few of the trips are in countries where the virus has been officially recognized: Ecuador and Mexico. Although there has been no confirmation, the virus may also be in Peru and Cuba.

I have asked a few students on these trips if they were concerned about the virus, and they all said that they were not. One junior, on the Amazon Adventure Project week, when if he was concerned about the virus, responded with, “No, I’m not concerned. I mean, I’m not pregnant.” Other students responded similarly, most everyone mentioned that they are not pregnant and have no other concern about the virus. However, some students and parents are worried. A few students switched out of their Project week trips because of the potential risks that the virus poses.

In an attempt to calm the concerned parents and students, Mr. O’Toole and Mr. Mahoney brought in a medical entomologist who studies bugs and disease transmission. He talked to all of the families whose students were going to trips in the affected areas. He discussed the type of mosquitos that transmit the disease, the bugs’ profile and habits, the means of transmission, and the symptoms that the virus cause. Overall, the speaker was well received by both parents and students. Sam Beck, a junior going on the Peru trip said, “I thought that the speaker did a good job. He didn’t try to freak everyone out, which was good.” It helped calm down the worried families and inform them on the virus.

There are many preventative measures that are being taken in order to ensure that the students and teachers on the trip stay healthy. Students are recommended to wear bug spray, specifically with deet, and light colors and long sleeves to keep bugs away. Additionally, students will try to be in screened or air-conditioned locations as often as possible. Actually, a lot of these efforts were already planned before the Zika craze as these regions have many insect borne illnesses, such as chikungunya and yellow fever.

Mr. O’Toole, Mr. Mahoney, and all of the project week staff are on top of this issue. Students going on trips to the affected areas should stay calm; you’re all going to be taken of. Just make sure to follow the instructions that you are given, and stay up-to-date on all of the new discoveries regarding the virus. Most importantly, have fun on your trips!]]>