Puerto Rico’s crippled health system could complicate the battle against Zika for everyone


March 1, 2016


I fear my last blog post regarding Zika downplayed the urgency of the virus. As new news continued to surface, I considered going back and making some edits to what I originally wrote on the subject. While I stand by my statement that the breathless media coverage has oversold the threat to the average American — scare tactics sell news. It’s the reality we live in. — I may have been a bit premature in my assessment of it. I’m actually a little surprised I wasn’t called to the carpet by any readers who might have though I wasn’t taking the virus’ dangers seriously. Make no mistake: I do take them very seriously. The very evening I posted the blog entry about Zika, I heard an NPR report explaining that the first instance of Zika being transmitted sexually had been reported. After that, more news about Zika seemed to be coming across the wire on a daily basis. And there is still plenty that must be learned. (For example, as I write this, according to updates on the CDC’s website there’s currently no evidence to support the idea that women can transfer the virus to their sex partners. As of now, anyway.) The point here is that there is a fine line the divides panic and worry, and another that divides worry and legitimate concern. We all have to be careful with how we handle educating others on Zika — whether it be the technicians under your employment or a customer who has flown into a panic because of a new bug bite.

My other concern with my original post was that I feel I may have been too dismissive of the concerns of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, a commonwealth and home to American citizens. Their plight is quite serious and it’s becoming an increasingly urgent issue. Not only is there reason for concern because Puerto Ricans can travel freely between the island and the states’ mainland, there’s also Puerto Rico’s current economic state. In short, Puerto Rico’s public health infrastructure is on the verge of collapse. This is obviously a scary realization for the commonwealth’s populace, but it should also raise a red flag for stateside citizens. The Puerto Rican debt crisis has nearly destroyed its ability to react to an unexpected health crisis like Zika. Because of this, it’s difficult to transmit accurate information about the status of the virus. Unfortunately, but expectedly for Puerto Rico, the virus has also crippled its tourism trade — one of the few industries that continued to hum along steadily prior to the outbreak.

Now there’s a mass exodus occurring as citizens (and health care officials) flee to presumably safer parts of the world — a concept that straddles that line between worry and legitimate concern for the U.S. But, as I see it, Zika is no cause for panic by us or by pest management companies’ customers. But we’d be fools to take our eye off the ball until it’s clear the threat has been controlled if not squashed completely.



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