Zika virus may pose threat to those traveling to Mexico

Co-director+of+infectious+disease+and+immunology+of+the+Border+Biomedical+research+center%2C+Dr.+Douglas+M.+Watts+advises+students+to+take+precautionary+steps+while+traveling+to+Mexico.+
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Zika virus may pose threat to those traveling to Mexico

Co-director of infectious disease and immunology of the Border Biomedical research center, Dr. Douglas M. Watts advises students to take precautionary steps while traveling to Mexico.

Co-director of infectious disease and immunology of the Border Biomedical research center, Dr. Douglas M. Watts advises students to take precautionary steps while traveling to Mexico.

Design by Jacobo De La Rosa

Co-director of infectious disease and immunology of the Border Biomedical research center, Dr. Douglas M. Watts advises students to take precautionary steps while traveling to Mexico.

Design by Jacobo De La Rosa

Design by Jacobo De La Rosa

Co-director of infectious disease and immunology of the Border Biomedical research center, Dr. Douglas M. Watts advises students to take precautionary steps while traveling to Mexico.

Javier Cortez, Staff Reporter

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During the coming spring break, many college students will flock to some of Mexico’s best vacation spots for a week of fun and relaxation, but with the continual spread of the Zika virus, vacationers heading to Mexico have been warned to take precautions during their time of fun and relaxation.

In November of last year, the first transmission of the Zika virus was reported in Mexico. The Zika virus is a disease that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, this species is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of contracting the virus may result in fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). For pregnant women, the virus can be even more harmful; babies of mothers who had the Zika virus have suffered severe birth defects. The most common defect reported is microcephaly, which is a condition where a baby’s head is underdeveloped and smaller than the average newborn’s head size.

Even more recently it was discovered that the virus could be spread through sexual contact, any man with the virus can spread it to their sexual partners during unprotected sex.

Although the virus has spread throughout all of Central America and more than half of South America, Dr. Douglas M. Watts, co-director of infectious disease and immunology of the Border Biomedical Research Center at UTEP, believes that the fear of the Zika virus spreading has been more prevalent than the actual virus.

“There is always a tendency for public health officials to over embellish,” Watts said. “Especially new diseases, due in part to inform and enhance awareness in the community and to encourage the public to comply with public health instructions to avoid acquiring the disease.”

One of the more embellished health scares by mainstream media in recent years was the Ebola scare of 2014. Popular TV networks such as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all contributed to the mass hysteria and overstating of the disease, despite only four cases of being reported that year.

Nevertheless, understated or overstated, students should take precautionary steps while traveling to Mexico.

“I would not advise them not to visit Mexico, but if they do, take precautions,” Watts said. “If one visits an endemic area, then it is very important to take precautions, including staying indoors, and if you go outside, use repellent and dress as much as possible to cover the body.”

Watts also said that staying near the beach on hotter days could result in less risk as mosquitoes prefer to inhabitant cool, shady and high humidity areas with vegetation.

UTEP sophomore Elizabeth Vicencio will be traveling to Cancun with a group of friends on the week of spring break, and despite her lack of knowledge on the virus or the preventive steps, she believes she will be fine.

“I have heard of the name of the virus, but not of what it is specifically, how it transmits or what its carrier is,” Vicencio said. “It doesn’t give me second thoughts. Maybe if I knew more about the virus it might, but for now, no.”

Another UTEP sophomore who is traveling to Cancun, Alejandro Urueta, said as long as he doesn’t run into any mosquitos he will be fine.

“I know that you should wear mosquito repellent,” Urueta said. “I will be in Cancun for seven days with my friends. I plan on relaxing and having a good time. I hope I don’t run into any mosquitoes. I think that we’ll be alright. I’m not too worried.”

Luckily for spring breakers heading to Mexico, all of the confirmed cases of the Zika virus have come from rural areas and not tourist destinations. Currently, six of the 32 states in Mexico have confirmed cases of the virus. The states include Chiapas, Jalisco, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, Tabasco and Tamaulipas.

For other skeptics traveling to Mexico for vacation, Dr. Alberto Diaz Quiñonez, deputy general director of the Mexican Institute for Diagnostic and Epidemiology, said in an early February at a  Mexico Ministry of Health meeting that travelers are okay to visit.

“While the Zika virus is inevitable in Mexico, given its vast size, climate and trade in the region, the number of cases remains very low,” Diaz Quiñonez said. “Given these facts, there is no threat to tourists visiting Mexico.”

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected]

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