A month ago, WVVA, a news station in Bluefield, West Virginia, reported that a man from Clay County, fresh off a mission trip in Haiti, was the first confirmed case of the Zika virus in the state. Zika was confirmed by the Center for Disease Control to cause microcephaly, a birth defect that leads to smaller heads and lower life expectancies in the children of mothers who are infected with the disease.
Last Thursday, word got out: There are now five confirmed cases here in this wild and wonderful state. According to an article from April 14 in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, all five people were part of the same mission trip and contracted the illness during their work in Haiti. However, unlike the first confirmed case of the virus, we know nothing about the home counties of the latest cases, nor do we know the hometowns and test results for six more individuals’ pending samples sent for testing by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
While I am a firm believer in a patient’s right to privacy, in the case of communicable diseases all people should be informed of what counties the infected people are from. Simple proximity to the infected people can increase one’s risk of contracting the disease, and this is need-to-know information that should not be kept from West Virginians.
Every day, more information about the virus is released to the public. The aforementioned Gazette-Mail article tells us that the Aedes aegypti mosquito, currently spreading Zika throughout Latin America, can be found in West Virginia. West Virginia’s Bureau for Public Health commissioner, Dr. Rahul Gupta, reportedly said he was anticipating eventually having confirmed cases of native mosquito transmissions in the United States and that mosquito control will need to become the focus as summer arrives.
We also know from an update from the Center for Disease Control on April 13 that Zika can be transmitted sexually, and of the 358 confirmed cases in the United States, at least seven of those were spread through sexual contact. FOX 5 reported this week that President Obama’s head doctor on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said men with documented cases of Zika should abstain from sex or use a condom up to six months after the infection.
However, what if you are completely unaware you have the disease? According to Dr. Gupta, four out of five people with the virus won’t display symptoms. It stands to reason they could easily spread the disease to anyone they had intimate contact with without ever knowing they were infected. Aside from microcephaly, the World Health Organization’s Zika virus information page added that Brazil’s local health officials noted an increased number of instances of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a nervous system disease, in those suffering from the virus alongside instances of microcephaly. Given this information, there are a plethora of panic possibilities.
Summer is almost here, and in the next few weeks the mosquito population will explode. There are plenty of places across Morgantown where standing water could become larvae breeding sites, and the chances West Virginia University students will forgo their fragrance of choice in favor of DEET-based bug spray are iffy at best. There are also many pregnant women in Morgantown and the surrounding areas who may not take proper precautions against mosquito bites. As for sexual contact, well, this is a college campus. In summary, Morgantown is ripe for a Zika outbreak.
The fact of the matter is while we don’t need to know their names, dreams, and favorite colors, West Virginians do need to be aware of the basic facts and potential hot spots for Zika to spread. We have the right to know there may be people living close enough to transmit this dangerous virus either through a mosquito or through intimate contact.
Regardless of the generally held belief that college students are reckless and carefree, students deserve to obtain this much-needed information so we can decide for ourselves whether there’s an immediate need to protect both ourselves and our families from getting sick. Clay County residents knew they immediately needed to start taking precautions against the virus. Members of this University and residents of other affected counties deserve the same.