The villagers seem relegated to mosquito-borne illnesses. They had already figured out that the symptoms of Zika were a lot milder than the others—with the important exception for the impact it can have on pregnant women. Most of them have had dengue, chikungunya, etc., when those mosquito-borne viruses invaded the island. It is just a fact of life in this part of the world, and they accept it. As Doris Day used to say, “Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be!”
I don't mean to imply that the folks here don't care. I wrote a blog story back in February about the concern for Zika. There were various clean-up efforts to minimize breeding areas, and we tried to educate the school children about it. However, once it finally arrived in our village, no one was surprised. About all we can do is hope there are no babies are born with microcephaly.
On Monday morning after reading my message, the Peace Corps medical officer reminded me that the mosquito which bit me on the back of my hand on Saturday could not have given me Zika. The virus doesn't spread that quickly, so if I had Zika, it must have been from an earlier bite. Or perhaps I had something different. I had complained of headaches (which I almost never get), back ache, and pain in my neck when turning my head. The back of my eyeballs seemed to be the focus for the headache pain. I assured the doctor, however, that this pain was mild compared to the time two decades ago when I had meningitis. I certainly didn't want to go through that experience again! Spinal taps are not fun!
Since I was not going to teach summer school with a 100.2 fever on Monday morning, I walked to a neighbor's house to give some materials to take to my counterpart teacher at the school. Several members of that family had already been through Zika themselves. As soon as they saw me, they noticed all the red rash that I had not noticed yet. [The red rash definitely is more visible on my white skin than on their dark skin!] It had spread up my neck and was starting to work its way out my arms.
I knew my back had been itching a bit, but I thought it was just from a spot of sunburn I received after I didn't get my back completely covered in sunscreen when I was snorkeling. So I lifted my shirt for them to check it—indeed, it was covered in rash. I took some pictures so I could update the doctor. She told me to keep taking the generic Tylenol and arranged for me to get some testing in the capital city for Friday. However, Zika is so prevalent now that they only test to make sure you don't have dengue fever.
I am not the first Peace Corps Volunteer to get Zika. I'm not sure who was the first, or the exact total, but a number of us on the four islands supported by the Peace Corps have been infected. Here is a blog story written by one of my colleagues on St. Lucia who got it. I'm glad my mother (a former nurse) read his account prior to learning that I had acquired the virus, because it made her less worried about me. By the way, my counterpart teacher came down with it the day after I did. We are convinced we got it from a mosquito at the school.
Of course, this means that I am now a carrier of the Zika virus. I need to return to the USA in October for my daughter's wedding (I'm hoping for an early frost to kill all the mosquitoes before I return). I guess every Peace Corps Volunteers brings home some sort of souvenir from their country of service—my “souvenir” is just a bit more unique than a coffee mug or a t-shirt. Indeed, for the first time in my life, I have a disease that is (at least temporarily) capable of being sexually transmitted (also known as an STD). Fortunately, I've not had a lot of young women throwing themselves at me down here.
The mosquito at the bus stop may not have been the one that gave me Zika, but it did bite me in a spot where I've suffered bites before—the back of my hands. After applying repellent, I always wash my hands, so that I don't end up inadvertently getting the chemicals in my eyes or mouth via my fingers. However, that washes the repellent off my hands, making them vulnerable. It is a difficult balance—how much repellent to use to prevent mosquitoes, without suffering consequences from the harsh chemicals? How much effort should one put into what may eventually be inevitable? Some experts have said the best vaccination against Zika is to get Zika, since it is rather mild compared to other diseases. Now that I've had it, I can say it really doesn't amount to all that much.
I guess that is why the locals, for the most part, just go about their normal routine, and chalk up whatever happens as “Que Sera, Sera.”