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The growing Zika threat and what it means for FGCU

In the wake of a growing Zika presence here in south Florida, there has been a question in the back of some minds: “What does this mean for FGCU?”

The virus, which is known for the birth defects it causes, is becoming the spotlight of national attention as domestic cases grow. Between Lee and Collier counties, as many as 14 cases have been reported. Here at FGCU, we also see a potential for outbreak, as we are home to international students and travelers as well as Olympians who participated in the recent Rio Summer Olympics  where a high number of Zika cases have been reported. So, what can we do prevent an outbreak?

Although Zika could prove to be a problem, as long as individuals take the proper steps, people can avoid travesty. The problem is that there is no cure or treatment yet once it is contracted because of the scientific uncertainty regarding the virus. The only outbreak protection is found in preventative actions.

Zika virus FGCU
EN Illustration / Audrey Mobley

“My advice to everyone as far as Zika is: avoid mosquito bites, avoid unplanned pregnancies and avoid unprotected sex,” said Kevin Collins, the head of Student Health Services. “Those are really the three big pieces of advice to students. The virus is contracted through either unprotected sex, where it can be found in semen for up to six months, or by mosquito bite.”

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Students can take action by picking up trash around campus to prevent mass breeding.

“The mosquito that carries the virus from carrier to carrier, which is native to Southwest Florida, breeds in small containments of water such as bottle caps or empty cups,”  Collins said.

Zika has been around for over 50 years but was never closely studied until now. Four out five people who contract the virus will never experience any symptoms. Those that do only see mild effects, which include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. At this point in time, there is still very little known about the virus outside of the short term effects. Although, individuals do not need to be symptomatic in order to spread it.

“We aren’t exactly sure what this means all the way through the process, if there are long lasting effects,” said Gerald Campbell, the emergency manager for UPD. “It looks like a fairly benign disease to everyone except pregnant women and their children, but we don’t know that for a fact because it hasn’t been studied that closely yet.”

At this point in the discovery process, all that is known is that it is essential that the community works together to prevent the spread of Zika. Taking simple steps to help each other is the key to outbreak prevention. Simply using bug spray, avoiding mosquito contact, cleaning up our garbage and practicing safe sex are the best defenses. And, while there may not be very much known about the virus, you may still be wondering, “Should students still be afraid?”

“We should never be fearful,” Campbell said. “Fear doesn’t fix anything. What we should work to be is informed, cautious and prepared.”

For more information about Zika and to receive updates regarding the virus and its spread, visit

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