Zika – the virus that became an epidemic in 2016 is affecting people’s health, mobilizing health experts and leaders, forcing controversial pesticide spraying, and threatening business interests in South Florida.
[Photo: Ms. Isabel Griffin (left) and Ms. Lakisha Thomas]
The first known place in the continental United States where people were infected with the Zika virus through a local mosquito bite was a tiny, one-square mile, area in the Wynwood district, an urban art-driven and trendy neighborhood a few miles north of downtown Miami. By now, a 1.5 square mile area in the City of Miami Beach is also an active transmission site and the number of cases for the state of Florida has risen to 64. This does not include the almost 600 travel-related cases of Zika in Florida.
[Photo: Dr. Timothy Page]
The FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work is actively participating in the fight against Zika. Dr. Timothy Page, associate professor in the department of health policy & management, is for instance leading an assessment of the economic impact of Zika on businesses in the Wynwood area.
Two FIU Stempel College doctoral students have also been heavily involved in the local fight against Zika. Ms. Isabel Griffin, a second year doctoral student in the department of epidemiology, is interested in emerging infectious diseases and global health. Ms. Lakisha Thomas, a second year doctoral student in the department of health promotion & disease prevention is interested in minority health, specifically health disparities among African-Americans.
Both students are also working full-time in the department of epidemiology at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County. As such, they are engaged in the investigations of travel-related Zika cases and the mosquito control efforts regarding these cases, the community outreach and surveillance in areas identified with possible local Zika transmission, the coordination of Zika testing for patients meeting testing criteria, and the dissemination of educational information to persons testing positive to prevent transmission and spread.
For both of them, this professional experience highlights the importance of intervention, but also research and knowledge. Ms. Griffin, for instance, explains that “as an outbreak epidemiologist, I am constantly amazed by the thousands of different bacteria and viruses in the world. Sometimes the source of an outbreak is something we would expect — like food or a mosquito — but sometimes it is something unconventional, like tattoo ink. These viruses and bacteria evolve so quickly, we have to be willing to keep learning in order to keep up with them.” Working on a doctoral degree in public health was therefore a logical choice for her, helping her be a more knowledgeable and impactful professional.