Via The Guardian: Puerto Rico officials struggle to translate Zika virus fears into action. Excerpt:
Every time it rains in San Juan, Dr Brenda Rivera-García walks around her home emptying containers of standing water, probably wearing long sleeves, and almost certainly wearing mosquito repellent. Rivera-García is the state epidemiologist in Puerto Rico, a woman tasked with tracking every single Zika-infected pregnant woman in the US territory.
Less than two weeks after the US health and human services administration declared the spread of Zika on the island an epidemic, Rivera-García said it’s not frustration or anger that overtakes her when she adds a new woman’s name to a list of roughly 700 confirmed to be infected with the disease.
“Every time I have to add a pregnant woman to that list, I just think of what’s going to be of this pregnancy,” she said, her eyes visibly wet. “What’s going to be of this child later on, and, it’s, it’s – it breaks my heart.”
As much as 25% of the island’s population could have the disease by the end of mosquito season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, and up to 50 pregnant women each day are infected on the island.
A recent study projected as many as 270 babies could be born with the debilitating birth defect microcephaly, between now and mid-2017. In a normal year, doctors expect 16.
The defect causes infants of mothers infected with the virus to be born with abnormally small heads, and suffer lifelong developmental disorders. Some will have trouble walking. Others may have hearing or vision loss, trouble swallowing or seizures. Many are likely to have shortened life expectancy.
But health officials have had difficulty translating those projections into urgency among many Puerto Rico residents, who have been dogged in the past by tropical diseases with more apparent symptoms, such as dengue and chikungunya. Indeed, the government’s efforts to control the virus seem hampered at every turn, thwarted by apathy, lack of trust, misinformation, insecticide resistance and even architecture.
“The system doesn’t work so of course people are going to be skeptical,” said Joe Torra, 40, a professional driver in San Juan.
Referencing colonialism, Torra said: “The best way to control minds is to control bodies.”
Denisse Velázquez, 36, stood under the shade of a tree in Old San Juan, one of the hardest-hit municipalities, as she said that the government “created false alarms”.
Juan Martínez, 43, said that with “all these diseases we have seen, it’s something normal”, referring to periodic outbreaks of dengue the island has struggled with since the 1980s, and the recent chikungunya outbreak. “In the Caribbean there has always been mosquitoes.”
Even tourism officials have reinforced the view that the Zika risk has been overblown.