Just a couple of weeks ago I was getting ready for my last interview. It was a wonderful feeling to know that I would be done shortly but I also felt a bit sad because it meant that my fourth year would soon be coming to an end. As I was about to turn off the TV, I saw a headline regarding the Zika Virus. Being someone who gets really involved and invested in all sorts of public health crisis’, I immediately became fascinated with the Zika Virus. I continued to watch the news for another 20 minutes and then decided it was time to get to bed for an early interview start the next morning. The next morning, 10 other interviewees and myself were sitting around a large table eating the provided breakfast and talking amongst ourselves before the day started. There was a pause in our conversation and one girl started talking about South America and I immediately began talking about the Zika Virus. After a couple of minutes, the girl sitting next to me turned around and said she had not heard about the Zika Virus. I was completely blown away because if you have any connection to the outside world you would have at least heard about it. This girl had literally not heard about it at all.
As someone interested in pursuing a health professional field it is part of your currently nonexistent job to stay up to date on the happenings around the world – especially those related to your field. This is not solely for the purpose of remaining up to date, but you never know when someone might ask you your opinion and what your thoughts are. You could be on a med school interview and be asked about the Zika Virus. You just never know when you could be asked and it is a good idea to stay updated.
For example, yesterday during an Emergency Medicine shift I saw a 33 year old male who had generalized body aches, cough, fever, and nausea. I asked his pregnant wife if she or anyone else was sick with similar symptoms but she could not think of anyone. After talking to him for about 20 minutes I realized I had not asked him about recent travel outside of the US. When I asked him he said that he had returned from Brazil about 4 weeks ago. I immediately became more alert because this gentleman was recently in an area known to being infected by the Zika Virus. As I looked over to the people that were in the room with him, my eyes zoomed in on the pregnant wife sitting waiting to figure out what was going on with her husband. I thanked them for their time and went searching for the Attending I was working with. I spoke to the Attending and told him that I was indeed worried about this patient having Zika Virus. My Attending actually smiled and said it was wonderful that I thought of Zika Virus because he actually was not even thinking about that because he forgot about the Zika Virus. You never know when you will use information that you have read about it.
So do not be like that girl at my interview. The Zika virus causes the disease Zika and is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Most people infected with the Zika virus develop symptoms such as fever, joint pain, and a rash. In some patients these symptoms are so mild that they do not even seek medical help for their symptoms because they generally last only a couple of days to a week. Many people think that their symptoms are due to the common cold and when they resolve in a couple of days it does feel like it was just a cold. The virus is spread through an infected mosquito and also can be transmitted from a pregnant mother to the fetus during pregnancy or during childbirth. The real danger of Zika virus is not the couple of days of cold like symptoms but rather due to a serious birth defect that can occur if transmitted to the baby. The birth defect is known as microcephaly- small head circumference which can cause neurological deficits. Babies with microcephaly have smaller head sizes than counterpart babies. Although they have not been able to scientifically prove that Zika virus has caused microcephaly in babies, they do believe that it is probably true.
Zika virus is thought to cause other neurological problems such as Guillain-Barre syndrome. Zika virus has been around since the late 1940s and was first discovered from a macaque monkey in Uganda and infected humans first in Uganda and Nigeria. The most recent outbreak began in April 2015 in Brazil and has rapidly traveled to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean region. Another interesting little tidbit is that the 2016 Summer Olympic Games are planned to occur in Brazil but people are very concerned about the games occurring in an area infested with the Zika virus. At this time, there is no antidote or vaccine to prevent Zika. The best way to prevent the disease Zika is to avoid getting bit by a mosquito since this is the most common route of infection.
Zika virus is out there and is a hot topic in the health community right now. Whether or not you are a junior in undergrad or a freshman starting out your career, it is a great idea to stay up to date on what is going on in the world around you. This is a wonderful habit not only for your future career in Medicine but also for your personal habit of staying current with the news. Try and take time either daily or every other day to take a couple of minutes to read or watch the news. I remember it being really difficult to do this because I never felt like I had any time to sacrifice for the news but I would try and kill two birds with one stone by listening to the news while I was at the gym, driving, or waiting for a doctor’s appointment.