Growing Fears: the Zika virus and its impact on campus

The virus has taken over worldwide news and has caused concern in Boca Raton.


Illustration by Ivan Benavides

Alexandra Van Erven, Staff Writer

With a growing number of cases reported in the state, Florida Atlantic students are concerned for their safety at home and abroad thanks to a virus that’s been making global headlines for more than a year.

The Zika virus was first recorded in Brazil in March of 2015, and there have yet to be any reported cases in the U.S. that are not associated with international travel. The virus can spread through unprotected sex with an infected person or bites from yellow fever or Asian tiger mosquitoes.

The infection can be asymptomatic or can cause rashes, fevers, joint pain and red eyes, according to the Center for Disease Control.

For Brazilian senior multimedia journalism major Stephanie Fonseca, Zika is a frightening prospect.

“The Zika virus couldn’t have hit them at a worse time,” she said. “With the Brazilian people’s need and want for the president to be impeached and corruption being exposed left and right in the government right now, Brazil is at a very dark moment.”

After infecting 1.5 million people in Brazil, Zika has made its way to other South American and Central American countries, including Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The School of Nursing has sent students to Guatemala for the past four years to aid impoverished people who don’t have access to health care.

On Feb. 20, the trip still happened — despite a Zika outbreak in the Central American country.

One pregnant student decided to stay home this time.  

Rhonda Goodman, the professor that leads the yearly trips, cited privacy laws when she declined to give the student’s name.

Map of FAU trips within Zika transmission zones by multimedia editor Ryan Lynch:

One of those three declined to take the trip because of the virus, according to Rhonda Goodman, the professor that leads the yearly trips. Citing privacy laws, Goodman declined to give the student’s name.

“There are 68 confirmed cases of Zika in Guatemala, but far away from where we work,” said Goodman. “The advantage of where we work is that we’re over 2,300 meters in elevation. There aren’t any mosquitoes up there.”

Rhonda Godman, nursing professor. Photo courtesy of FAU
Rhonda Godman, nursing professor. Photo courtesy of FAU

There are also other methods being deployed for students’ safety. “We’re airing on the side of caution, that everyone at all times has to have long sleeves, long pants, sneakers and socks,” she added, along with specialized sprays and wipes.

“We’re really probably overkilling it because we really don’t see any mosquitoes up there, but I certainly want to take every precaution necessary to protect our students,” said Goodman. “That’s my first foremost priority: the safety of our students.”

Assistant Director of International Programs Tania Tucker said, “We’re basically referring students to the CDC and asking that they review those guidelines and take their advice, and if they have any other questions to contact their health care professionals.”

“It hasn’t really affected our study abroad program,” she continued. “Nothing has been cancelled. To the best of our knowledge, no other schools have been cancelling programs, and what we’ve done is that we’ve pretty much followed what other schools are doing and leaving the decision up to the student.”

The virus has hit nine Florida counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward. Governor Rick Scott declared a state of public health emergency on Feb. 3.

The first case of Zika in Palm Beach County was reported on March 30. According to the CDC, there have been an estimated 70 total cases of infection in the state.

On Feb. 8, FAU sent out a public health announcement over email, suggesting ways to ward off the virus. “Wear protective clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks and shoes when mosquitoes are present. Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents and follow manufacturer’s directions. Repair torn screening on windows, porches and doors.”

Junior film major Madison Bakich said, “I am nervous about it but I’ve made it a point lately to make sure I don’t go outside the first hour of dusk.”

Bakich added: “My mom always warned us about the dangers of mosquitoes as kids so I’ve made sure to follow the guidelines from the school.”

With the U.S. just starting to face the virus’s impacts, Fonseca isn’t sure about the future.

“Honestly, I believe it’s too early to tell how it’s going to affect us here,” said Fonseca. “The U.S. media has a tendency of making everything seem a hundred times worse than it usually is. Because it’s such a new disease and not much is known about it, I know that all of us have to tread with caution and be very careful about everything.”

Alexandra Van Erven is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @therealalexav1.