In the months leading up to our family's departure for Brazil, I can't count how many people expressed their concern about our safety and the fear of our potentially contracting Zika. And in recent weeks, the world's top professional golfers have dropped out of the Rio Olympics in droves, citing fear of Zika virus as their reason. Well, let me tell you what. If I'm going to have to get a mosquito-borne illness while I'm here doing mission work in Brazil, give me Zika over the other options any day.
Since I'm a 44 year old married to a man who's ... *ahem* ... fixed, I'm not the least bit worried about contracting this virus since I'm not going to be getting pregnant any time soon. The symptoms of Zika are not much worse than the influenza - achy joints, fever, headache - and the recovery time is relatively brief. So if I get bitten by a mosquito carrying this virus, I'll just suck it up and convalesce. And since the missionary I'm working with here, Cris Carpenter Gomes, is pregnant with her first baby and managing to not live her life clothed in mosquito netting from head to toe and floating in a cloud of Off!, I think I can deal.
Don't get me wrong. Cris takes reasonable precautions to keep her unborn baby safe. But she's just not obsessing about it the way that Americans and the American media have been. (If you're interested in reading about her and her perspective on being a pregnant American in a Zika hotbed, read here.)
My second choice if I have to contract a mosquito-borne illness would be dengue (pronounced /ding'-ee/) fever. Symptoms of this disease include high fever, joint pain, severe headache, and mild bleeding. The thing about dengue is that getting it once isn't worse than any other unpleasant illness but getting it a second time can be much more catastrophic. A missionary friend of ours in Malaysia died of dengue last year, so it's a much bigger deal than Zika. Incidentally, the same type of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) carries both dengue and Zika.
But still, I'd much rather get dengue once than the third disease these same mosquitoes carry - chikungunya. Chikungunya (pronounced /shee-koon-goon-yuh/) has longer-lasting symptoms, though they are similar to the symptoms for Zika and dengue. The difference is that the joint pain can last for months and be debilitating. One of our readers here had chikungunya three months ago, and she is still walking with a severe limp. Everyone here knows someone who's gotten it, and they all have horror stories to tell of the long-lasting nature of the symptoms.
That said, I don't spend much time at all worrying about getting sick in a foreign country. I've been to six continents, and I've taken one or both of my children with me almost every time I've traveled. We've received excellent health care in Thailand (when Kinley was 16 months old and somehow cut her cornea) and in Italy (when Knox was 7 months old and had a severe respiratory infection). I managed to get regular OBGYN checkups in Fiji when I was 8 months pregnant with Knox, and Kinley even went to the orthodontist a couple of times here in Brazil a few years back. God has been faithful to send health care professionals and even interpreters to meet our needs all over the world.
As a precaution, we have little plug-in pots of mosquito repellent in our bedrooms here, and we brought plenty of bug spray containing at least 25% DEET. Kelsey is much better about remembering to slather her kids in the spray than Josh and I are, but so far, our kids haven't been eaten alive.
So if you're worrying about our health and praying for us to remain disease-free, we are certainly grateful. Maybe your prayers are the reason we're healthy! And while you're at it, pray for the Brazilians who have contracted these diseases. They don't have the option of returning to the relatively-disease-free confines of the US at the end of the summer like we do.