Health officials are pretty much all in agreement that Zika virus will likely spread throughout North America as the weather gets warmer. Although the virus is most dangerous to pregnant women or women considering getting pregnant very soon, it's highly transmittable so everyone — men included — should begin taking extra precautions to prevent mosquito bites or spreading the virus. There are also ways to help women and children affected by Zika virus, both at home and abroad.
As it stands now, all pregnant women are affected by Zika virus, really, if they live in area where the Zika mosquito can live. The symptoms of Zika are flu-like and usually subside within a week or two. But for pregnant women, the virus brings serious risks to the fetus at all stages of pregnancy. Researchers have confirmed that there is a link between Zika virus and pre-mature birth and neurological disorders, including microcephaly. Zika has already affected over 4,000 babies born with microcephaly in Brazil and after the earthquake this week in Ecuador, the risk of an outbreak has increased substantially. In the states, there have so far been almost 400 reported cases of Zika virus, all of which were travel related, but health officials are warning the U.S. government that it is likely to get worse. But instead of despairing, there are ways to help those affected by the spread of the virus.
The More You Know
It's hard to fight the urge to do something to help those who are affected, but educating yourself about the virus and measures already being taken to prevent women is the best place to start lending a hand. There are tons of resources provided by the Centers for Disease Control to help you. At work, you can stand up for women at risk, as OSHA has recommended that employers should consider letting women and their male partners work indoors to decrease their risk of being bitten by an infected bug. With something "scary" like Zika, misinformation is bound to spread. Be part of the solution and know what steps to take to prevent yourself and guide your friends and family to "good" information.
Donate To Help Women Abroad
Money always helps, right? If your family is in a position to do so, there are international charities that help women and children all the time, and especially so when there's an outbreak of a virus like Zika. Zika virus is prevalent mostly in South and Latin America, so you'll want to focus your attention to those regions.
Melinda Gates told Buzzfeed that she recommends the United Nations' Shot@Life charity, which provides vaccines to children in need and women's health awareness. Though there's no vaccine yet, donating to charities that help women and children get basic medical care is a good place to start. Hopefully soon, you could even be helping them get a Zika vaccine, which is in the works.
At home, you can support Planned Parenthood. Not only do they provide basic health services and awareness campaigns to women in need, they also promote research. Right now, the debate about fetal tissue is holding up really important research into the effects of a possible Zika vaccine, among other serious medical research that could help in the fight against the virus.
Write To Your Lawmakers
OK, writing to lawmakers is a little old fashioned, but if you want to help when it comes to Zika you need to show that you think it's a big deal (because it is). President Obama has requested emergency funding for Zika. That would go towards medical response teams when a case is reported and fund research for a vaccine and treatment. Sounds reasonable, right?
The request is currently stalled in Congress because the GOP won't approve it, saying that the Department of Health should use the remaining Ebola emergency funding. But "Ebola isn't over" according to health officials and Zika is on its way. This is an election year — organizing support for the funding and urging Republican politicians to compromise could save lives in the long run.
It's frustrating that there's not a lot to be done to help those affected by Zika other than take preventative measures and support legislation that would benefit pregnant women in the future. It doesn't seem like much, but a little action here and there can go a long way.