This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Janna Paramore.
GW’s School of Medical and Health Sciences hosted a lecture and panel discussion Friday afternoon to discuss growing concern over the Zika virus in D.C.
Douglas Nixon, the chair of the microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine department, provided a brief overview of what the Zika virus is and why health concerns are growing about it globally. He explained that Zika has existed on the African continent for more than 60 years, but the mosquito-borne illness has recently spread to almost every country in the Americas and the number of cases has increased.
Using World Health Organization data, Nixon said about 20 percent of people who contract Zika virus show mild symptoms such as fever and rash, while 80 percent of affected individuals have no noticeable symptoms. He said there is currently no vaccine for the virus.
Huda Ayas, the associate dean of international medicine at SMHS, addressed concerns about how GW is ensuring the safety of its students studying abroad in Zika infected areas.
Ayas listed numerous resources the school has for students, such as travel guidelines, mandatory information sessions before travel and strong lines of communication that include sharing information daily to students in affected areas.
“We are not banning travel because of Zika,” Ayas said, but added that the University is suggesting that pregnant students talk to their doctor before traveling or postpone their trip.
Aileen Chang, an assistant professor of medicine, said the U.S. is unlikely to experience an enormous outbreak of Zika virus because the country “has a very different risk.”
“The transmission of these diseases are very much related to socioeconomic processes,” Chang said.
Lack of clean water supplies, limited access to air conditioning and a shortage of insect repellant are among the factors that create an environment best for mosquitos, but Chang said the U.S. does not face these challenges on the same scale as Central and South America, and the region is likely to see smaller impacts.
Gary Simon, the director of the division of infectious diseases, said scientists don’t know much about the virus, but the issue has gotten great deal of attention because of a media frenzy. He urged people to continue waiting for more information on Zika before becoming too concerned.