The Zika Virus and Public Health | Apr 21, 2016
Since it first came to the attention of the international medical community in 2015, the Zika virus has become a global concern that is an increasing priority of public health professionals around the world. As someone with a passion for the field of public health, you can play an important role in the containment, prevention and eradication of this and other infectious diseases in the U.S. and abroad.
A global health emergency
In the last year, the Zika virus has gone from a relatively unknown sickness that was a side note in the news to a disease that is on the forefront of the minds of travelers, expectant mothers and others in the areas in which it has been reported. Symptoms of the virus, which is spread through mosquitos, include a fever, rash, conjunctivitis and joint pain. Though these symptoms are generally mild and people rarely die from the virus, infection during pregnancy has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that results in the baby being born with a smaller-than-average head and usually some form of brain damage. While there is strong association, the condition has technically not yet been scientifically proven to be caused by the Zika virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1947 and cases have been recorded in humans since that time, but it was not until 2015 when the serious epidemic began with a case reported in Brazil. The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus – and the birth defects to which it has a suspected link – an international public health emergency on February 1, 2016. The New York Times reported that the declaration is a rare occurrence, which not only signifies the seriousness of the condition, but gives countries new tools with which to combat it.
“The evidence is growing and it’s getting strong,” Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO said at a news conference in Geneva. “So I accepted, even on microcephaly alone, that it is sufficient to call an emergency. We need a coordinated international response.”
The role of public health workers
As a public health worker, how can you make a difference in the Zika virus outbreak, or other infectious disease epidemics? There are many careers that can take you into this specialized field. For example, consider pursuing a career as a public health advisor or public health analyst. As an advisor, you could play a role responding to humanitarian or public health crises within the operation of public health organizations at the local, state or even federal level. While working as an analyst, your role would be more behind the scenes, assessing programs and policies for effectiveness, and determining areas that need intervention. The CDC reported that those two jobs are among its most popular positions within the organization.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roles for health educators and community health workers are expected to rise by 13 percent between 2014 and 2024. This is a faster-than -average rate when compared to other industries in the nation, and is a promising indicator if you are ready to begin or further your career in the field of public health. The BLS additionally reported that the median annual salary for one of these roles is $42,450, and 15,600 new positions are expected to be created during the ten year period leading up to 2024, further indications of the health of the hiring market.