Church Missionary Department Explains Approach to Zika Virus

mosquito on skin
Image via Wikimedia Commons

This news release was originally published on Mormon Newsroom. Below is an excerpt of an interview with Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer, assistant executive director in the Church’s Missionary Department.

Elder Schwitzer, tell us a little about yourself and your role in the Missionary Department.

I’m a physician who specialized in emergency medicine and internal medicine. As a General Authority Seventy, I currently serve as an assistant executive director in the Missionary Department and supervise the worldwide Missionary Health Services. I have also served as a mission president and area president and am very familiar with our missionary program throughout the world. I love these good missionaries. The Zika virus spread and its impact on our missionaries currently has our utmost attention.

What is the Zika virus, and what are the risks associated with it?

Zika is not a new virus. It was first identified in the late 1940s, originating in the Zika forest in Uganda. Over time, it has spread to South and Central America, the Pacific and Indonesia. We have even had a few reported cases in the United States. The infection is spread by the Aedes mosquito, and therefore, preventing mosquito bites is a vital part of controlling the spread of this infection.

When people are infected with Zika, about 80% of them have no symptoms. Once a person has been infected and has recovered, he or she then has immunity to this virus. In some areas of the world 50% of the population is immune. Symptoms of Zika virus include a rash, conjunctivitis (redness of the eyes), muscle and joint aches and fever. In general, the symptoms are gone within a week. Other than treating symptoms, there is no other specific treatment.

Of special concern, however, is the effect on the unborn baby when this infection is acquired during pregnancy. There is a possible link between acquiring this infection during pregnancy and the child being born with a condition known as microcephaly (babies born with a small head circumference). The Center for Disease Control recommends that pregnant women take every precaution to avoid mosquito bites when traveling to regions known to be endemic for Zika. There is no evidence that non-pregnant women who acquire this infection and recover are at increased risk for this complication with subsequent pregnancies.

Continue reading Elder Schwitzer’s interview at Mormon Newsroom.

Whitney studied Communications with an emphasis in Broadcast Journalism at BYU. She also served as Miss Utah 2009 and spent her year promoting Children's Miracle Network, fundraising for anti-bullying/suicide prevention programs, and speaking to mutual groups.