Well it happened. For the past few months during my stay in Managua, Nicaragua, the inevitability of me contracting the Zika virus became a running joke with my friends and family back in the States. However, much to their surprise, and to my parent’s horror, this joke became a reality.
Last week, I had noticed some minor muscle pains and general lethargy. I had assumed, as my physical therapist father would tell me, that it was nothing more than a lack of exercise or poor posture.
Later in the week, as some friends and I prepared for a weekend trip to the beach, I noticed a few red dots on my face. In all honesty, I had thought this was nothing more than an acne breakout. However, as we drove to our weekend destination, my face fully broke out into a rash and it became clear that what I had was more than just acne. I sent pictures to various friends and family back home, which resulted in a surge of panicked calls and texts urging me to seek medical attention. At this point, I was about an hour away from the nearest hospital in Managua, and I admittedly grew very worried.
Unable to enjoy the beach, I headed back to Managua and visited the nearest E.R. Within an hour, they registered my name, took my vitals, and got me hospitalized. By this point, the rash had spread to my entire body and I looked as if I was being consumed by a flesh-eating virus.
I was immediately tested for dengue fever and chikungunya, two tropical diseases that can be fatal. Soon thereafter, I was seen by a physician who recorded my symptoms and investigated my rash. After a brief examination, she looked at me nonchalantly and muttered, “Ah...la virus famosa.” Of course, this famous virus was Zika, which has been plastered all over the news throughout the past several months.
I was then given a small prescription to lower my fever and prevent itching, and they sent me on my way. I was told to “take it easy” for a few days, so that’s what I did. I returned to my bed and continued watching my favorite American sitcom, Roseanne, as if nothing was different.
On Monday, I did not go into work, more out of embarrassment of my persistent body rash rather than any serious viral symptom. As the days went on, I realized that, despite what CNN had repeatedly told me, Zika really wasn’t that bad.
Now with that said, it should definitely be acknowledged that there is a presumed link between the virus and certain birth defects, and that all women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant (and their partners) should take extra precaution against the disease. However, for the rest of the population, especially for a person of good health who is not planning on having a child, Zika is not dangerous - it mostly presents itself as nothing more than a common cold or flu.
While in the hospital, like the social media-obsessed millennial that I am, I lightheartedly posted an Instagram photo of myself with the caption “Zika: 1, Thomas: 0.” Immediately after, I received dozens of comments, texts, calls, and emails from friends and family who were legitimately concerned for my life. I had to calm each of them down and assure them that I barely felt sick and was experiencing nothing more than a rash and some minor fatigue. It seems that the media outlets have sensationalized the outbreak of Zika to a very dangerous point.
The fact that my friends and family reacted this way proves the power of the mainstream media. Upon reassuring my sister that I was not going to die, she asked, “So why is everyone making such a big deal about it?” The constant “breaking news” reports of new Zika transmissions in the U.S., or of Brazilian babies being born with microcephaly, are scaring people worldwide and deterring them from traveling to the proclaimed “Zika Zones.”
In Brazil, the country with the most Zika transmissions, various athletes from around the world have given up their spot to compete in the Olympics, which will begin in a week in Rio de Janeiro. Admittedly, women who are pregnant or planning on getting pregnant (as well as their partners) should take caution if traveling to a “Zika Zone.” However, for the rest of the population, using the fear of Zika as a reason not to travel is quite ridiculous. The fact of the matter is that we just do not know a lot about the disease. Estimates are made regarding its long-term effects and how exactly it can be transmitted, but ultimately nothing is known for sure.
As someone who contracted the disease himself, I can personally tell you that it was not that bad. Aside from some minor symptoms, this illness did not interrupt my life in the least. In fact, what impacted me most was the constant stream of worried reactions from friends and family. Moreover, this disease can be easily prevented by simply using deet insect repellent (something that I admittedly did not do too often). If you travel to a “Zika Zone,” the chance of you contracting the disease is very low as long as you take the proper precautions.
My only advice and plea for those curious about the Zika outbreak is to keep yourself educated and informed - and avoid media-instigated hysteria.