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Zika Is No Ebola, But Both Viruses Reveal Need For More Disease Research

James Gathany
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The aedes aegypti mosquito.

By now many people in North Texas have heard of the Zika virus, but few have firsthand experience. Dr. David Vanderpool does. Vanderpool was raised and educated in Dallas and has seen the toll the disease is taking south of the border, in the poorest country of the Americas – Haiti. He says whether or not the Zika virus spreads to the U.S., we need to be paying close attention.

How many other diseases are there like Zika, West Nile Virus, or Ebola, that started in developing countries but could easily spread?

"Dozens: West Nile Virus was discovered in Egypt; Ebola was an African disease; Chickenguyna chikungunya was first described in Tanzania in the 50s. So there’s many, many disease like that so now is the time for us to address those viruses that are still contained within a country or a continent.”

How do you suggest we prevent other neglected tropical diseases from becoming an international risk? 

"It takes a shift of perspective. Instead of working with diseases that we have now that effect a few people. We would need to shift to work with diseases – they even have a title: they’re called neglected tropical diseases – it would take a lot less resources to take care of a small group of people with vaccines and eradicate that disease early than it would say for it to become a pandemic around the world and then have to address it. In the long run it should be a cheaper way to go.”

Why should people in Texas be paying attention to Zika?

"The Zika virus is spread by a mosquito that is prevalent in the United States, and certainly Texas proximity to other areas where it is endemic would make Texas a target.”

How serious of a virus is Zika?

"The Zika virus is not that big of a deal for someone who has it, it generally lasts a week or so. You have symptoms like a mild case of the flu.”

So is the bigger concern with the possible link to developmental problems in babies – like microcephaly? 

"That’s right, and that’s one thing I do want to underscore — that is an association it has not been proven at all. In fact some of the research that’s been done a very small percentage of those babies had the Zika virus present. So I don’t want people to get too worried about that until we know a lot more.”

Dr. David Vanderpool is a Dallas native and founder of LiveBeyond, a faith-based, humanitarian organization dedicated to improving lives of the poor in Haiti.

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.