#ProjectZika Blog: Sex, bugs, and the rising toll

 In an effort to mute the white noise of the 45-second Zika update you've tuned out during the nightly news, we decided to take a trip to the virus' ground zero in the Northern Hemisphere.

Update #6: Condoms might rival bug spray in the fight against Zika

San Juan, Puerto Rico -- A young pregnant couple I met on the beach turned out to be my favorite people of the trip.

Jorge Ortiz and his wife Ivette Molina are just weeks away from having their first baby.

It's a boy. His name is Milan Arturo. His nursery is blue with airplanes.

"We have been taking care of us because of the Zika and stuff, using Off and things like that," Ortiz told me.

That's what you politely tell a reporter you just met.

What he'd later say, after I asked, is that Zika has changed his sex life with his wife.

"There is many ways to get the Zika.  It isn't just the mosquito. We have relations," he said.

He felt awkward. But sometimes, when you're dealing with what officials call a "public health emergency," you've got to talk about sex.

"You have to stop thinking about you and you have to think about the baby and your wife so you have to change many things," he said.

He's saying he and his wife use bug spray regularly.  He's saying they use condoms regularly too.

As much as health officials are trying to kill mosquitos, they're also trying to pass out contraceptives. Not just to men, but women too.

Zika can be spread through sex.  Estimates right now say of people that actually have Zika, more than half are unaware they've contracted the virus.

Put those facts together and you can see why those fighting Zika are worried about what happens after dark.

Frankly, they hope you will be too.

Update #5: 50 pregnant women a week is a lot but Zika predictions are hard

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- There was some discussion in our newsroom before I left about a statistic that a number of newspapers had published about Zika.

More than once, we read that in Puerto Rico, 50 women a day were contracting the virus. 

I thought the number was so high. Then again, the sure things about Zika haven't been all that sure.

"Every week we're adding 100 to a little over 100 women to our pregnant database," said Dr. Brenda Rivera, the state epidemiologist in Puerto Rico.

Rivera was born and raised on the island but went to school in Iowa.  She said people there always had a hard time pinning her accent.

She said 'surveillance,' getting into communities to talk about virus and disease, is her favorite park of the job.

Zika has kept her in the office, which we got lost trying to find.

"Certainly, we're not yet seeing 50 pregnant women a day," Rivera said.

So where did the number 50 come from?

Long story short, it was the highest end of a prediction about how many pregnant woman would weekly contract the virus.

That said, Rivera doesn't think the threat is any less critical.

"This is a public health emergency, not in the sense that we're used to emergencies where it's guts and gore, there's no blood here there's no cuts there's no legions. The effects of this public health emergency we'll see down the line," she said.

For what it's worth, I liked Rivera. 

She really gets that when she adds a name to her list of pregnant women with Zika, she's talking about a family and child. 

She also gets that the list of symptoms that family could experience is largely unknown.

"Zika is a unique monster in that we still don't know the entire spectrum of adverse effects we could see in future generations," she said.

Update #4: Two pregnant women on a beach in San Juan aren't worried about Zika

When people talk about Zika here, you get the impression they feel a duty to change the narrative about their island.

They want main land America to hear something like this:

As long as you wear bug spray, you'll be fine.  You should wear shorts, get tan and drink too much rum.

If you're pregnant, they don't say, "don't come to Puerto Rico."

 

 

But they don't brush Zika concerns under the rug either.

So we end up at a beach to shoot some (beautiful) video. 

Not one, but two, pregnant women come out of the water like Halle Berry in Casino Royale.

Both were in bikinis. I was shocked.

One woman said she covers herself in bug spray multiple times a day.  In fact, after our interview she doused because she'd just come out of the ocean.

 

The other woman said she doesn't use it all that often.  She also had just come out of the ocean but had no plans to spray.

For both families, the husbands were the ones who expressed concern.

The concern is not necessarily for mom, as the symptoms of Zika for an adult are mild.  For the baby however ...

All that to say, apathy here is no joke.

For those who have been following our journey, camera guy Nick is back up and running.

He captured some incredible pictures today of a very beautiful island.  We can't wait to show you them on TV.

 

Update #3: My hotel and I have the same number of bug spray cans on the counter

Finally, I found the community bug spray my hotel put out for guests '"for their well-being."

Interestingly, no mention of Zika.

Also, no recommendation that guests spray before heading away from the hotel.

More of an option for people who want to be extra careful. Like me.

It's a snapshot of a larger problem officials are dealing with in Puerto Rico. 

Locals, the ones who need to use bug spray, clear up standing water, and maybe even change the way they have sex, are apathetic to all of it.

I met a guy in a bar (how all great stories start) yesterday evening.  I had walked to a strip where locals hang on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.

It was Tuesday night, almost everything was closed.

Edwardo, however, was at the bar it turns out he owns.

He's majorly chatty but also majorly camera shy.  So, you won't see him on TV.

His bar is half inside and half outside.

The massive side porch looks exactly like what you have in your head. Think Lemon Bar in Neptune Beach or Ovinte at the St. John's Town Center.

He was in shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt.  He didn't have bug spray on. He said he didn't know anyone who had Zika.

I asked if the virus had impacted business.  He said in the tourist areas, fellow bar owners were feeling it.  But Zika wasn't an issue in his part of town.

He said on Thursday, the side deck will be filled with locals and cervezas "no problem."

 

 

Update #2: My hotel clerk thought I was crazy when I asked about Zika

PUERTO RICO -- Standing in the security line at Jacksonville International this morning, I could see a CDC-printed and TSA-posted a sign warning travelers to protect themselves against Zika.

I snapped a photo and thought it would be the first of many Zika warnings I’d hear and see traveling to the island being called a ground zero for the virus.

After seven hours in the air, a layover in Newark (yes, Newark) I have yet to see another. No Zika warning signs. No bug spray wipe down stations. No kiosks set up to equip those fearful of a bite.

I’m sure they’re out there. I just haven’t seen them yet.

I’ve seen regular people in the clothes expected of a Caribbean island. Our driver told me all the Zika talk is a product of media momentum.

“Of course,” said Richard Morales.

He’s an awesome guy my sister actually met on a vacation to the island. He picked us up from the airport in an swanky black Town Car.

“I think the attention the media has been giving this mosquito is way too much and is having a big time impact on the island right now,” he said.

His cell phone rings. It’s the office wanting to know if we need more than one ride.

Tourism is down and Morales believes too much attention on Zika is largely to blame.

We get to the hotel quick because the photo journalist (cameraman) I’m traveling with, Nick, got food poisoning last night. No joke. He and his wife.

Because I know you want to know, Nick says homemade meatloaf is the culprit.  He left it all in Jacksonville (don’t think too hard) and got on the plane anyway. The guy felt horrible and is a total champ for even showing up at the airport.

A clerk told Nick and I about a free shuttle to the beach. She asked me to repeat myself when I questioned if I should be worried about the virus.

Instead of bug spray, she handed me a warm cookie. It’s a token part of a stay at a Double Tree by Hilton.

We’re about to head out to get a sense of the city. Multiple folks have suggested Old San Juan. I’m a Puerto Rico novice. If you have a good travel tip throw me a tweet @clarkfouraker.

Update #1: We're traveling to Puerto Rico to report on Zika

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In an effort to mute the white noise of the 45-second Zika update you've tuned out during the nightly news, we decided to take a trip to the virus' ground zero in the Northern Hemisphere.

While it may seem a nation away, Puerto Rico has a U.S. area code and you only need a driver's license to fly here. It's honestly no more difficult than calling Alabama or taking a flight to Georgia.

On this trip, however, one connection between the Caribbean island and Florida matters more than the rest.

The Centers for Disease Control that is working to fight Zika in Florida is the same CDC that's largely losing the fight against Zika in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory is second, behind Brazil, in total number of diagnosed cases in the world. The latest estimates say 50 pregnant woman are infected with the virus each day here.

We want to find out how Zika got so out of control.

And if what's happening in Puerto Rico is foreshadowing what's possible in Florida.

Anticipating your (almost always kind) emails, we have considered if this trip was a safe one to make.

Our team has committed to wearing long sleeves and pants while in Puerto Rico. We've no doubt helped the bottom line of a bug repellant company we won't give any publicity to.

When we get home, we're committed to keep spraying up so we don't infect one single local mosquito.

Speaking of home, you won't need to wait on us to follow our trip. We're publishing everything on First Coast News digital and social media networks before the we publish on the nightly news.

Follow First Coast News on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Follow me on Instagram and Twitter

Bear with us on the nightly news white noise. We know this is an important story to you. We're working on it.

 

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