Study abroad groups unaffected by Zika virus

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Local college students traveling to countries affected by the Zika virus will take precautions against the disease but ultimately make the trip, according to representatives from schools such as Christendom College in Front Royal and Catholic University in Washington.

"Outbound students to these countries are being given guidance on symptoms and effects of the virus, as well as how to avoid exposure to the extent possible," said Grace Schneider, director the study abroad office at Catholic U. Trips are currently planned or in progress for Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Mexico.

"I think people are worried because of the significant news coverage and they don't understand (the threat), so some of it is simply educating people to read the information that's there," said Schneider. "Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there's not a significant health risk to students who are not pregnant."

The Zika virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitos. According to the CDC, only one out of five people bitten will develop symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. The sickness is mild, lasting only a few days to a week, and rarely is it fatal. There is no specific treatment for the illness other than rest and hydration.

The Zika virus poses a greater threat to fetuses. Pregnant women who contract the virus may give birth to children with the serious birth defect microcephaly.

The virus has been found in South and Central America, Mexico and islands in the Caribbean. The CDC advises that all avoid contracting the virus by using bug spray, sleeping indoors and wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors.

Christendom students will follow all those guidelines as they travel to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic on spring break missionary trips. "The danger is not so much that they might get ill, but that they might bring it home and go on to infect other people," said Julie Cipriano, assistant coordinator of the mission trip program.

The students in Guatemala will work in an orphanage; in the Dominican Republic, the group will visit the diocesan mission in Bánica.

In nearby Haiti, the St. Joseph Clinic in Thomassique has seen a few cases of the virus in the past couple of weeks, said Peter J. Dirr, a member of the board of directors of the Medical Missionaries.

"We cannot tell yet whether this is just the beginning of a bigger outbreak or not," he said.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016