"This is a public health emergency"

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Officials from the island's health department and the Centers for Disease Control are not only fighting mosquitos, but apathy.

Zika state of emergency

JACKSONVILLE - SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Officials from the island’s health department and the Centers for Disease Control are not only fighting mosquitos, but apathy.

Many locals aren’t concerned about effects from the Zika virus, unless they’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. However, when baby talk enters a conversation, most locals admit they’re unsure how Zika will impact their next generation.

"My wife, she stays home most of the time just to be safe. Stay in the room and watch TV. When we go out, we go out. We have to do our life. But, you have to be more careful,” said Jorge Ortiz.

He and his wife, Ivette Molina, are due with their first child November 12th.

His name is Milan Arturo.

“We're almost there," Ortiz said.  “It's our first baby and I think it's an amazing experience."

Officials required Molina to be tested for Zika once already in her pregnancy. The tests came back negative.

The young couple has been diligent about using bug spray, one of the CDC’s primary recommendations for people on the island.

"We're out of the water and we'll do it again. It's stressful, but we have to do it you know,” Ortiz said. "Everybody is using all this stuff, like OFF!. They're talking a lot about this, in whole Puerto Rico, not just in San Juan, everywhere."

Everywhere in Puerto Rico includes standing water in cobblestone gaps, puddles on flat-top roofs and rain runoff that just won’t evaporate.

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

Experts have even focused on a surplus of used tires that accumulate water and serve as a farm for mosquitos to breed.

"It is a public health emergency,” said Dr. Brenda Rivera. “Not in the sense we're used to emergencies where it's guts and gore. There's no blood here. There's no cuts. There's no lesions. The effects of this public health emergency we will see further down the line."

Rivera is the state epidemiologist and helped Puerto Rico navigate outbreaks of other mosquito viruses like Dengue and Chikungunya.

She’s a native of Puerto Rico and a veterinarian by training. She received her professional degree from Iowa, where she says classmates had a hard time placing her accent.

“Every infection in a pregnant woman is worrisome,” she said.

That worry is wearing on Francis Becerril, a 29 year old from San Juan who was infected with Zika during the first trimester of her pregnancy.

She got tested for the virus after she began showing symptoms.

“My eyes, the pain I had, absolutely everything,” she said in Spanish.

The baby is a boy. She and her husband have chosen the name Francisco.

“A person like a mother transmits everything to her baby. So, I’m trying mentally to be okay so that my baby doesn’t feel that I’m worried,” she said.

Becerril says her Zika test results took 3 months to come back.

Now that she’s tested positive for the virus, a specialist checks the baby every 2 weeks.

“I haven’t thought about terminating the pregnancy,” she said. “Some see the abortion as liberation but I’m not thinking about this.”

The fact that she was infected in the first trimester worries medical experts who say the first round of babies infected early in a pregnancy will start being born next month.

“It's painful for me and I take it very personally,” Dr. Rivera said. “I know that number, particularly when we're talking about pregnant women that have a Zika diagnosis, it's not just a number. There’s a family behind that number and the stress and the anguish they will encounter because they don't know, we don't know to have all the answers and give them peace of mind that everything is going to be okay. We don't know."
 

 

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