The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the spread of the Zika virus a global public health emergency. Assistant Professor in Mennonite College of Nursing and public health expert Carla Pohl explains the virus and the potential threat.


Photo of Carla Pohl

Carla Pohl

The WHO declared the Zika virus outbreak a global emergency, mainly because there are so many cases of children being affected. The declaration of a global emergency allows for more resources to fund the creation of a vaccine and treatments for the virus.

The Zika virus has grabbed headlines due to the significant increase in the number of children born with small heads (microcephaly) in Brazil and other South American countries. There have been confirmed cases in the United States. To most people, the virus isn’t dangerous. However, if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, don’t travel to countries with the Zika virus. It’s not worth the risk.

The virus has spread so quickly because our bodies don’t have antibodies to fight the virus and are not immune to the Zika virus. Once someone contracts it, their odds of getting it again should decrease because their body will have some immunity after being infected. When a person gets over the virus, they should be symptom-free, but the CDC can’t really say for certain. There are still unanswered questions about possible long-term effects.

Florida’s declaration of a public health emergency is in response to 10 cases of illness from people who traveled to Central and South America. The emergency makes funds available for controlling the mosquitos. I would recommend taking more precautions in southern states where there is standing water such as the bayous, swamps, and warmer temperatures.

Some of the recommendations the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has made if you are traveling to a country where the virus has been reported include:

  • Covering exposed skin
  • Use insect repellent on adults and children over 2 years of age (all insect repellent in the U.S. is EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) approved for use in pregnancy)
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing
  • Stay in air conditioned rooms and use mosquito netting for sleeping

Information about the Zika outbreak will continue to dominate social media as more cases are found and health officials respond to health needs.

My best advice, don’t panic and don’t read social media – things can get really blown up because people will come up with conspiracy theories. Find your information from reliable sources such as the CDC (, the World Health Organization (, or the Pan American Health Organization (

Find additional information and updates on travel restrictions.