Annie Paul | Give ZIKV the respect it deserves
"In the Jamaican #ZikaZone, where the disease is rumoured to be population control, #Zika is spreading from Kingston and St Andrew westward across the island. Jamaica has 55 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika out of 2,845 'suspected cases', numbers that are dramatically lower than actual infection rates and which reflect the realities of testing in a poor country for a silent disease with few knowing victims."
Thus reads the perky newsletter #ZikaZones put out by a young American journalist named Miriam Markowitz. Miriam had been haranguing us on Facebook for some time about why the Government, according to her, seemed not to be taking the Zika virus seriously. "Distribute mosquito nets, condoms, and zappers free across the island. These should be readily available to all Jamaicans, regardless of income," she said blithely while us jaded, Third-World-toughened journos rolled our eyes and shook our heads in disbelief.
It seemed to us that the Ministry of Health was treating the Zika situation much better than the way the previous administration had handled information about the chikungunya virus. "What was Markowitz on about?" we grumbled. Still there was something refreshing, if not infectious, about Miriam's wide-eyed, bushy-tailed innocence and her relentless pursuit of information on Zika both here and elsewhere (she's even threatened to enlist the services of a black bunny rabbit named Shark in spreading her message).Miriam's #ZikaZones newsletter is a good read, and so I join her in reflecting on the dangers and ravages of this viral infection that allegedly originated in the Zika forest of Uganda.
Unlike chikungunya, or
chik-V, which laid us low in Jamaica in 2014 ZIKV, or Zika, is not a devastating illness for most of us. So when it was announced that Beenie Man had been taken to hospital with ZIKV, many scoffed and thought the DJ was being a diva until someone reminded us that the musician was born with sickle-cell disease. For anyone with a pre-existing medical condition, ZIKV can be life-threatening.
Another dangerous outcome of ZIKV is for those who go on to develop the dreaded Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a disease whose causes are unknown, in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. Starting with a tingling in the extremities, GBS can rapidly lead to muscle failure and paralysis. Normally, a very low percentage of people get GBS, but ZIKV seems to trigger it, and the number of individuals succumbing to the illness goes up dramatically.
One such individual thus affected is PNP stalwart Delano Franklyn, who wrote in detail about his travails so that the general population might be forewarned and, presumably, forearmed.
His moving account of his illness has been the subject of much discussion in Jamaica, but there's one aspect of it I want to focus on.
"On or around the 16th or 17th of June," wrote Franklyn, "I felt what then turned out to be the symptoms of Zika upper limbs a little weak, by the following day bloodshot eyes, but I kept going. I just never stopped at all. By the weekend of the 19th of June, I developed full-blown rashes."
Still, the politician didn't allow this to detain him, merely taking Benadryl for the rash, but doing everything
on his schedule, including speaking at Kingston College's graduation and flying to Orlando for a two-day diaspora conference once the rash subsided. By the end of that trip, Franklyn started losing sensation in his hands and feet but still flew back to Jamaica and drove himself home from the airport where, the following day, he succumbed to what turned out to be full-blown GBS
The most frightening thing about GBS is the prohibitively expensive treatment required to recover from it. In Franklyn's case, he needed to consume 40 bottles of IVIG, each one costing $85,000.
Only a well-heeled few can afford to pay for such treatment. One thing I would urge is that, unlike Delano Franklyn, who refused to take ZIKV seriously enough to give his body the rest and recovery time needed, anyone afflicted with the virus should take at least a week off from normal activities and just rest. None of us can afford to take our immune systems for granted, and stressing our bodies out by ignoring a serious illness is not wise.
- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @anniepaul.