By Carol Keiser: Belleair, Florida
Americans can’t act fast enough to defend themselves against the Zika virus—and for me, it’s about to get personal.
My daughter is coming to visit me in Florida next month. She’s bringing my grandkids. So I’m doing everything I can to make sure they’re safe from mosquitoes that carry dangerous diseases.
Now is a time for special vigilance. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that three children have been born in the United States with birth defects caused by the Zika virus. Another three pregnancies led to what the agency calls Zika-related “pregnancy loss”—a vague term that can include miscarriages and abortions.
The CDC’s Zika Pregnancy Registry has identified 234 pregnant women in the country who are infected with the Zika virus. Researchers are still learning about this disease, but they currently estimate that as many as 15 percent of these pregnancies will result in birth defects.
The worst Zika-related birth defect may be microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small brains. This is a lifelong malady and there is no known cure. In Brazil, which is the epicenter of the Zika outbreak, officials have confirmed nearly 1,500 cases of babies born with microcephaly.
In the United States, every pregnant woman who currently carries the Zika virus appears to have contracted it during foreign travel, either from a mosquito bite or from having sex with an infected person.
Last month, a group of doctors and health professionals issued a letter that called for moving or postponing the 2016 Summer Olympics, hosted by Brazil. Roughly half a million foreign tourists are expected to visit the tropical nation for the games.
Both the World Health Organization and Brazil’s health ministry have downplayed the risk, saying that the games ought to go on.
My hunch is that as we approach the start of the Olympics—the opening ceremony is scheduled for August 5 in Rio de Janeiro—we’re going to hear a lot more about the Zika virus. And it’s probably only a matter of time before the CDC identifies a case of Zika infection that takes place within our own borders.
That’s why I’m taking aggressive action right now.
Behind our house is a swimming pool, which my grandchildren will use. Close to the swimming pool is a storm drain, where stagnant water gathers.
We called our county’s mosquito-control office. An official visited our property and confirmed that the storm drain and its stale water are ideal for mosquito breeding. So we treated the water with granules—an impermanent solution that we’ll have to repeat monthly or after every episode of severe rainfall.
Are we overreacting? My daughter isn’t pregnant and doesn’t plan to become pregnant. My grandchildren are beyond any threat of microcephaly. Mosquitoes don’t yet seem to have carried the Zika virus into my corner of the world.
And I know that there’s no such thing as risk-free living. Every time we get in our cars, we take a chance.
When it comes to the Zika virus and my family, however, I’m going to do what I can. If I make an error, I want to make it in the direction of overprotection rather than under protection.
For me, that means treating a storm drain near my house.
For our federal government, it should mean much more. President Obama has requested $1.8 billion to fund emergency prevention efforts and officials have rerouted $590 million in unused Ebola-prevention efforts—but so far Congress can’t agree on an appropriation.
At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration is studying a mosquito-eradication plan that uses proven methods of genetic modification to reduce the threat of Zika. The sooner it proceeds to actual testing and implementation, the better.
Zika represents a predictable crisis. We’ve heard the warnings. We’re seeing the effects.
Those who watch “Game of Thrones” know the mantra: “Winter is coming.”
Right now, in the real world, we might say: “Zika is coming.”
We should prepare for it. I’m doing what I can to protect the people that I love.
We should all do our part.
Carol Keiser owns and operates cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois. She volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.