BYU students study abroad despite Zika

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Talk of the mosquito-carried Zika virus has been swarming worldwide. Outbreaks have occurred in Latin America, Africa and Florida, where mosquitoes thrive in the hot and humid climates. More recently, Zika has also been found in Utah.

The Zika virus can be transmitted from bites from the Aedes mosquito as well as through sexual contact. Infection can result in a week-long fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, but most Zika patients have mild to no symptoms.

The Zika virus poses the greatest danger to fetuses, which can contract the virus from a pregnant mother if she has been infected. Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, resulting in birth defects caused by an underdeveloped brain.

The LDS Church has taken precautions against the Zika virus by mandating sister missionaries wear long pants in affected countries. BYU students who study abroad or do internships in different countries must also take precautions against the virus.

“I know we are very concerned with (Zika),” said Jeff Shumway, coordinator of Latin American studies. “But BYU in general is very concerned with the safety of students. (BYU) will be pretty active in protecting students from any perceived dangers.”

BYU director for international study programs Lynn Elliott said BYU has not yet prohibited students from traveling to countries because of Zika. However, BYU students who travel to countries where the Zika virus is a concern are warned prior to traveling.

Gregory Thompson, a professor of Spanish pedagogy at BYU, recently returned with his family from the study abroad program in Merida, Mexico. He said students receive a briefing on all types of concerns, Zika being one of them.

Thompson said he did as much research as he personally could on Zika and still felt safe taking his family and his students to Mexico. He did add that he personally advised two married students, as well as a few engaged students, on the dangers of being pregnant or becoming pregnant if infected with the Zika virus.

“I think a large part of it is just educating students,” Thompson said, adding they can make their own choices afterward.

Elliott said he is confident students will continue to want to study and intern abroad in the future.

“Last year more than 1,800 students went on programs through ISP (international study programs), which is more than have ever gone before,” Elliott said. “I think ISP’s prospects are very good.”

Public health major Paige Oliver was well aware of the Zika virus and its effects before she went to Panama on study abroad. She said she wasn’t worried about Zika because she had no plans involving pregnancy, however she did worry about getting sick and “possible contamination post infection.”

Oliver said she had to sign a waiver from BYU acknowledging she knew about the virus and that she was putting herself at risk. Oliver said having a prior knowledge of the Zika virus didn’t really affect her study abroad experience.

“I just wore more insect repellent. Like a lot of repellent,” Oliver said.

Oliver estimated she and the five other students she was with in Panama went through a bottle of insect repellent each.

BYU sophomore Brooke Waldrop, studying psychology, echoed the belief that students will continue to study abroad and intern in Latin America as well as other countries despite the growing threat of Zika.

“I’m not going to let something like that stop me from doing what I want to do,” Waldrop said. “I think there’s a lot of fear because people are uneducated about it and they don’t know how to take the proper precautions. As long as you’re educated on the risks and know how to prepare yourself, you shouldn’t let it deter you.”

 

The research on Zika is still forthcoming. Learn more about Zika virus and how to protect against it at the CDC’s website and BYU’s website on travel safety.

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