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Managing the Risks of the Zika Virus by Melanie Bennett

Posted by Melanie Bennett on April 26, 2016 at 11:04 AM

Our guest on the latest episode of PRIMA Podcasts is Melanie Bennett from United Educators. Melanie shares some of the major concerns associated with the current Zika virus outbreak, particularly as it relates to learning institutions. Melanie explains that because the Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, it is spreading very quickly between countries and continents, and there is currently no vaccine.

Fortunately, the symptoms are generally mild (red eyes, fever, joint pain and rash) and the virus only stays in the bloodstream for about a week. However, the major concern is that both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have identified a link between Zika and microcephaly, which causes very serious birth defects.

Specific Concerns For Educational Institutions

K-12 and higher education institutions should be particularly concerned about Zika because of their study abroad programs. The CDC has issued level-two travel alerts for countries with an outbreak, meaning that pregnant women should consider cancelling travel plans to those locations, and everyone else should take preventative measures.

United Educators suggests that schools consider cancelling or postponing trips abroad for several reasons:

  1. The virus spreads very easily;
  2. Preventive instructions may be difficult for younger travelers to adhere to;
  3. Younger people may not be aware that they are pregnant; and
  4. Sexual transmission of the disease is more of a concern on campuses.

If an institution chooses to offer students waiver forms to participate in a program abroad, United Educators recommends that the form be specific to the activity and the associated risks. It should include language pertaining to: acknowledgement that the traveler received information about the Zika virus from a trusted health organization such as the CDC; detailed information about locations or activities that could put him/her at risk; a list of any known health conditions associated with Zika; and acknowledgment that the traveler understands and is assuming all risks. It is recommended that institutions consult with their legal counsel when drafting waivers.

Zika Transmission and Prevention On Campus

The Zika virus is currently in the U.S. So far, all the cases that have been reported, were contracted through international travel. The virus may be transmitted from person to person through sexual contact, or from person to mosquito to person through mosquito bites.

The CDC recommends the following preventative measures for school campuses, especially those in mosquito-prone locations:

  1. Remove standing water;
  2. Repair cracked septic tanks and pipes;
  3. Keep mosquitoes out of buildings by closing doors and windows, and using netting and screens; and
  4. Individuals are advised to apply insect repellant, use condoms when having sex, and contact a doctor if they experience Zika symptoms.

Useful Zika Virus Resources

Center For Disease Control

World Health Organization

Center For Infectious Disease Research and Policy