Zika outbreak threatens us all
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - February 2, 2016 - 9:00am

The recent news has been all about the scary outbreak of the Zika virus. This new global health threat started in Brazil and the first cases happened in Camacari with doctors clueless as to what was ailing patients coming into the hospital by droves. They naturally wondered if it was dengue fever or perhaps some new unidentified virus. All they knew for sure was that people kept getting sick and coming in with flu symptoms, aches and pains, and rashes.

The symptoms are actually quite similar to that of dengue although the fevers aren’t as high. Currently, the Philippines remains Zika free (from the current outbreak), with only one reported incidence of Zika back in 2012 and no more documented cases since. It’s important that we remain vigilant and hopefully prevent an outbreak from happening here like what’s currently happening in many parts of South America.

In fact, according to the news, the virus is spreading “explosively” in the Americas with reported cases continuing to go up. At this point, the rest of the world is watching with a close eye and preparing (as much as possible) for the spread of Zika. The threat is looming and other countries have already issued travel warnings against countries that have reported Zika cases.

Currently the Philippines is not imposing travel restrictions to countries where Zika has been reported or monitoring passengers who arrive to see if they are sick or infected. It has not reached that level yet, although DOH is remaining careful and reminding the public to do the same. Like dengue, Zika comes from and is transmitted through mosquito bites so a first line of defense is maintaining a clean environment and eliminating breeding grounds for mosquitoes so it’s important for everyone to do their share in cleaning up their surroundings.

Looking at the Zika virus, on the offset it doesn’t appear any scarier or deadlier than dengue or Chikungunya, which share similar symptoms. However, the scary part of the Zika virus is that it is reported to cause neurological abnormalities or birth defects in babies of pregnant women who become infected. They say it is linked to cases of microcephaly in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains and smaller heads. In this regard, the World Health Organization (WHO) is carefully researching this link and has put Zika in the same category of concern as Ebola, fast tracking research to combat the virus.

Currently according to WHO statistics, there have been around 4,000 reported cases of microcephaly in Brazil since October and this is certainly alarming. The warning against travel to heavily infected countries is for everyone, but most especially for pregnant women. In countries where Zika has been prevalent in recent months, there are even warnings against getting pregnant in 2016, the threat is that bad.

We must all remain vigilant and look out for symptoms that could be Zika including mild fever, skin rashes, and conjunctivitis, which can last from two days up to seven days. In the end, the most important things we can do now is to take precautions against mosquito bites and be on the lookout.

* * *

I’m very glad that we had a successful and peaceful 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu last week. Much like when the Asian heads of State came to Manila earlier this year, the events went off peacefully and without a hitch. It’s always scary to host big ticket events like these because of possible safety violations and untoward incidents, but I’m happy to note that none of these fears came to pass and everything went well, with even the weather cooperating.

Over 12,000 people from the country and all over the world took part in the Masses and celebrations of the event, which seeks to promote the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and highlight a better understanding of the liturgy. The special congress is held every four years and this year it was beautiful Cebu with faithful from all parts of the world making the trip to be a part of it.

And although Pope Francis could not attend the special event, he did send a special message to those who were there and to everyone. He highlighted the importance of the Year of Mercy and called on everyone to increase their compassion and caring for those around them. His video message from January 31 called on everyone present to strengthen their love for Christ and for everyone reminding those present to bring the message of God’s tenderness and forgiveness and mercy to every man, woman, and child.

Personally, with everything that has been happening in the world and all the conflict present I think the message could not be any more timely or appropriate. There is just so much injustice and so many global humanitarian problems that I believe that we all, Catholic or not, should be more actively compassionate and promote a world of justice and peace.

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