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The Zika Virus, The 2016 Olympics, and Public Health

The Zika Virus, The 2016 Olympics, and Public Health

By now, everyone knows about the virus spreading around the Western Hemisphere, but not everyone understands exactly how serious Zika virus might be. While Brazil continues to prepare for Rio’s Summer Olympic Games ― slated to begin on August 5 ― thousands of public health experts are clamoring for officials to call the whole thing off.

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    However, the Olympics has been cancelled only three times since it was reinstated in 1896, and all three times were due to World Wars I and II. Is Zika really enough of a danger to dash the dreams of thousands of world athletes?

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    Strange Beginnings

    The story of Zika begins in Uganda in 1947. Possibly for centuries, the Zika virus has spread far and wide across Africa and Asia, but for myriad reasons ― from poor media coverage to possible racial immunity ― much of the world failed to learn about the disease until 2013, when a single infected individual traveled to Brazil and got bitten by a mosquito.

    Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are two species of mosquitoes that have enormous distribution, thanks in no small part to globalization. They are hardy creatures, capable of living in diverse environments and carrying dozens of equally diverse diseases. In addition to Zika, the Aedes mosquitoes are known for hosting and transmitting such diseases as yellow fever and malaria, making them some of the deadliest animals on Earth.

    Zika moves through a number of bodily fluids. In humans, it is present in the blood ― which is how it makes its way into mosquitoes ― and semen, meaning it is possible for Zika to be sexually transmitted. In fact, sexual transmission of the virus has been confirmed in at least 10 countries, including Brazil and the United States. Worse, scientists have reason to believe that Zika is preserved in male reproductive organs, meaning men infected with Zika can be contagious for months after their initial symptoms have disappeared. Still, mosquitoes remain the most common vector for the virus, by far.

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    Disastrous Effects

    Unlike the most famous epidemic diseases ― the black plague, the Spanish flu, polio, smallpox, etc. ― the problem with Zika is not deadly symptoms. In fact, most people infected by the disease experience mild or no symptoms whatsoever; aside from rare cases of internal bleeding, the worst symptoms include painful joints, fever, rash, and headache, which will disappear after seven days. However, thanks to public health officials using spatial analysis, a strong correlation has been found between Zika outbreaks and incidents of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which causes extreme muscle weakness and often death.

    For a small section of the public, Zika virus is even more dangerous. Pregnant women may experience the same symptoms as everyone else, but their unborn fetuses react to the virus by developing horrific defects. Most babies who survive the disease are born with particularly severe microcephaly, which means an undersized head and brain damage. Scientists believe some infected fetuses undergo fetal brain disruption sequence, in which the brain and skull completely collapse while the scalp skin and facial features continue to grow.

    Though it may seem that Zika is not a threat to the average person, the truth is Zika is what many are calling a delayed epidemic. The effects seem mild to most adults; meanwhile, the next generation is being eviscerated by abnormalities and defects. There are no treatments to cure microcephaly or its corresponding brain damage ― only therapies to make the children more comfortable as they age. Worse, doctors and scientists are not certain they fully understand the course of the disease.

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    Public health officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) and elsewhere suspect that adults and children are at-risk for long-term neurological deficits, but as yet we don’t have enough information to be certain.

    Uncertain Future

    What is obvious is the unchecked outbreak raging around Brazil. Despite mosquito control efforts, insect-borne disease transmission is up more than 600 percent in comparison to just one year ago. Worse still, Rio de Janeiro is at the epicenter of the outbreak, with the highest case numbers in all of Brazil, and it remains the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games.

    Every two years, more than 500,000 foreign visitors flood into the Olympics host city, spending millions of dollars on hotels, food, attractions ― and, in the case of Brazil, leaving with thousands of Zika infections. These infections will spread in the tourists’ countries of origin, dramatically increasing the speed of global spread and placing more stress on already over-taxed public health professionals. With less time to develop vaccines, antiviral drugs, insecticides, and other technologies, scientists will be less likely to prevent a massive-scale pandemic.

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    According to the International Olympic Committee, the games are meant to foster “social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” Hopefully health officials will use these facts to decide the best path forward for the Olympic games.

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      Featured photo credit: shutterstock via shutterstock.com

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      10 Harsh But True Illustrations that Show Our Changed Society

      10 Harsh But True Illustrations that Show Our Changed Society

      Let’s face it.  We are living in a digital age, and there is absolutely no turning back. One of the biggest influences on society these days is social media. It affects us both positively and negatively. Social media was originally designed for people to share interesting facets of their lives with their friends, but it has become so much more than what it intended to be. It is now a medium for information to pass around the globe. In many cases, people first learn about current events through Twitter or Facebook before hearing about them from conventional news sources.

      We also rely on technology for nearly everything we do. People these days seem as if they can’t go anywhere or do anything without their smartphones, tablets, or laptops. They need to be in constant contact with others via electronic devices.

      However, there is also a downside to be too connected to social media and electronic devices. We are too dependent on them, which make us oblivious to what we are doing to ourselves. Being too connected can have a negative effect on our lives and the society as a whole. Here are 10 true illustrations that show how our society is negatively impacted because of the use of technology.

      1. Facebook is eating away at your time.

      Facebook is eating away your time

        How much time do you usually spend each day on Facebook or other social networking sites? Is it hindering your productivity? Do you find yourself wasting time to a point where you don’t even know where it goes? If the answer is yes, Facebook might have eaten away at your time.

        2. We’ve become “Likeaholics.”

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        Likeaholic

          When you are posting something on Facebook, are you doing it just to see how many of your friends will give it the proverbial thumbs up? This illustration shows that some people are treating “Likes” on Facebook as if it was a drug they needed to inject into their bloodstreams.

          3. Our electronics have priority over our lives.

          priorities

            Given a choice between your dying phone battery or you dying, which will you choose? In this case, the man in this illustration chose to charge his phone over to sustain his own life. As a society, we need to be more careful of our priorities.

            4. Our devices are ruining intimacy.

            lack of intimacy

              Have you and your loved one ever spent time together where each of you is on your phone instead of communicating face-to-face with each other? Has society reached the point where we can’t even be intimate with each other without being on our phones at the same time?

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              5. Families aren’t spending quality time together.

              mother baking

                Here is a mother making holiday cookies, but what are the kids doing? They are not making cookies with their mother. Instead, every one of them has their faces buried in their own electronic devices. Television used to be what parents use to babysit their kids. Now, it’s a tablet, phone, laptop or video game that does the job.

                6.  We’d rather record someone than help them.

                drowning

                  A lot is happening in this illustration. A black man is drowning and asking for help. One person has a gun pointed at him. The other person has their iPhone pointed at him and is recording the scene, but is not interested to help this man.

                  7. Society is sleeping, it’s sleeping its life away.

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                  sleeping your life away

                    Time is money. After we have wasted the long period of time on social media, we are losing the most valuable currency we have – our time in this world.

                    8.  Despite all the technology we have, we still want what someone else has.

                    wanting what someone else is having

                      There’s an old saying that goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” This illustration shows that despite all that we have, we are still not satisfied with our lives.

                      9. Sensationalism still sells.

                      free expression

                        With the information overload that exists today, the media still looks for sensationalism. Here’s a woman who feels she has something important to say, but the media only cares about her because she is naked. Would the news media still have microphones in front of her if she wasn’t standing there topless?

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                        10. In the end, with all of this, we are still killing the planet.

                        gun to mother earth

                          This last illustration argues that despite all of our technological gains, we are still polluting the earth as if we have a virtual gun pointed at Mother Nature. As we build bigger cities and higher technology, how much more damages can we continue to do before putting our lives at risk?

                          Featured photo credit: Michael Summers via flickr.com

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