Zika Virus: Insights from Haiti

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By Carl Stagner

On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a global health emergency. Within a week of the announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) activated a Level One alert, the same level of heightened preparedness and around-the-clock attention given to the Ebola outbreak of 2014, the H1N1 outbreak of 2009, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2007. But what does it all mean for you and me? Though mosquito-borne Zika cases have not yet been reported in the United States, international travelers have contracted the virus. Many of our brothers and sisters in the Church of God live, work, and do ministry in countries where transmission of the virus is ongoing. Haiti is one of those countries. Global Strategy missionary Mark Fulton offers some on-the-ground perspective on the Zika virus, cuts through some of the media hype, and suggests ways we can best pray.

Transmitted most prominently by mosquitos, and because only one in five of those infected actually contract Zika, the virus is relatively difficult to track. “It is difficult to assess the total impact of the Zika virus on God’s work in Haiti,” Mark explains. “The affected/infected person often has symptoms which are minor, and might resemble a regular influenza virus. So we are doing more bloodwork on patients to obtain information, but not necessarily to change symptomatic treatment regimens.”

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Photo: Mark Fulton

The possibility of birth defects attributed to the disease has only increased public anxiety over the Zika virus. At the hospital in Saintard, Mark says that patients are testing positive on a weekly basis. These patients are recovering, but the threat to the unborn is the greatest concern. “As we meet with pregnant ladies,” Mark explains, “our main job is to alleviate fear, since the virus, while suspected to produce microcephaly in the unborn, has only been seen to truly affect a fetus in very few cases. We are increasing educational efforts, staff, and the number of lab tests for Zika.”

As experts continue to learn more about the Zika virus and its effects, much of what can be reported about the disease is speculation. Data collected isn’t always scientifically sound, and many who have the disease don’t do anything about it due to lack of symptoms. As the disease begins to affect countries closer to the United States, Zika receives more and more media coverage—though confirmed cases have been around since 2007, and unconfirmed reports for much longer. For years, viruses of different kinds of have plagued Haiti, but Zika’s presence in countries like Brazil—where the summer Olympics are set to take place—garners the attention of the press. While many questions regarding the total accuracy of statistics and news reports linger in Mark’s mind, two things are certain—travelers must use caution, and prayer is needed.

“Pray for wisdom for us as we learn more and more about the virus,” Mark suggests. “Pray that we can then share our knowledge in a way that alleviates fear and doubt for our patients while letting them know that there is a God who has this whole situation in his hands. Pray for ways to combat mosquitoes and that, if necessary, a vaccine will be developed to combat the disease entity.”

To learn more about the CDC’s guidelines regarding the Zika virus and associated travel precautions, visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/.

Mark and Kathy Fulton serve as missionaries for Global Strategy to Haiti. Learn more about Global Strategy at www.chogglobal.org.

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