Zika’s Getting All of the Attention. It Shouldn’t.

Article/Op-Ed in Slate
May 27, 2016

Donna A. Patterson writes for Slate about the Zika epidemic and how it compares to other regional outbreaks:

We did not beat Ebola.

If the West Africa Ebola epidemic follows the history of past outbreaks, it is highly likely that it will become endemic to the subregion and subsequent outbreaks can begin at any time. In fact, errant cases of Ebola have continued into 2016. And we do not want a redux of the 2014 epidemic. Which is why it is troubling that Congress is debating whether to reallocate $350 million in funds designated for Ebola to contribute to the Zika fund.

Zika isn’t entirely benign, of course. We are right to take note of Zika’s global spread. The disease has been a known threat since it was first identified in 1947. It has since spread through many African and Asian countries, but the attention it’s currently garnering is due to the Asian strand, which is currently spreading throughout the Americas at a rapid rate—Zika-bearing mosquitoes are predicted to reach the U.S. this summer, and the Olympics will take place in one of the hotbeds, Rio de Janeiro, this August (though it will be winter there). The public’s reaction is understandable: Zika’s propensity to cause brain damage in babies is, to say the very least, troubling. And while most adults who contract Zika exhibit mild symptoms, infant microcephaly, coupled with Zika’s presence in nearby Latin America, brings it to the fore in both the media and in personal conversations on public health. There is fear of Zika, so coverage is understandable—and laudable when it serves to appropriately contextualize that fear.