Today I have been invited as a representative of Pinoy Scientist (together with Dr. JD) to attend a press forum on the Zika Virus, a hot topic within the scientific community and recently a cause for concern among Filipinos. Present to give reliable information and answer any questions were Dr. Lyndon See Suy (Spokesperson of the Department of Health) and a representative of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (I didn’t catch his name, unfortunately).
The Zika virus has been discovered many years ago but it is only now that it is causing widespread worry due to it being transmitted by the same type of mosquito that carries dengue (Aedis aegypti, abundant in the Philippines) and a recently discovered strong correlation between microcephaly (smaller cranium and brain size due to underdevelopment) and pregnant women infected with the virus. A case of Zika virus infection in the Philippines has been reported but how that person contracted it is still unidentified.
I learned that the symptoms manifested by persons who contracted the Zika virus are almost the same as those of dengue, but the main difference is that Zika virus causes conjunctivitis while dengue’s uniqueness lies in the high fever and rashes. The DOH and PSMID spokespersons maintain that dengue is still the scarier one to have but the Filipinos should not be complacent about the mildness of the symptoms of the Zika virus either. According to them, the Zika virus is hard to detect or contain because around 75% of those who have the virus show no manifestations at all, and that makes it hard to put definite travel advisories (except maybe for pregnant women) and to check returning tourists and overseas Filipino workers.
The main agenda for the near future is to encourage further research, disseminate reliable information, and prevent unnecessary panic. The government agencies concerned call for the action of the community as well in reducing the chances of spread of the virus in the Philippines by practicing sanitation and destroying potential mosquito habitats. They also hope that by the time the Filipino athletes would have to participate in the World Cup in Brazil, the newest discoveries and technologies would help give them some sort of protection.
So far, there is still a great need for conclusive results (a correlation does not imply causation, no matter how strong it is). Most of the information we have to know to protect the susceptible and cure the infected remains to be discovered. That being said, everyone is advised to stay tuned to the developments in the worldwide Zika virus research. Viruses evolve and humanity must keep up to ensure survival, and here lies the importance of science and technology research.
EDIT: Here is Dr. JD’s poem about the press forum: