Just*in Time: May 2016

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Hi Justin—

I really like your column and I read it when you post it on your Facebook fan page. But there is something that you’ve yet to talk about and I want to bring attention to it, only because I may have questions about it that some others have as well. I don’t live near a big city or have really great Internet connection where I live, but the subject that I was looking into is the Zika virus. It seems that it is getting more and more of a problem and it scares me. I’m HIV-positive and have been for twenty-eight years. I’m doing well and am thriving. But being alive during the early stages of the AIDS crisis, it scares me that the Zika virus will be the second coming of a virus that will affect the gay community. What do you think? Also has anyone who is HIV been infected with the Zika virus yet? Are we as HIV-positive people more susceptible to catching the Zika virus? Please help me.

—Country Boy

Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.

THANK YOU! FINALLY! I’ve been waiting on a question about the Zika virus for a while. Let us start by giving my readers some brief information about the Zika virus. The Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of the infected Aedes species mosquito, which also spread the dengue and chikungunya viruses. A pregnant woman can also pass the Zika virus to her unborn child, which can cause microcephaly (a condition in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected, often due to abnormal brain development). At the time of delivery, the Zika virus can also be spread from mother to child.

The Zika virus can be spread by a man to his sexual partners. There are cases known today where the Zika virus has been sexually transmitted by men who have developed symptoms of the Zika virus. Researchers have found out that the Zika virus can be spread before and after the men showed any symptoms. Scientist have found that there is a case in which the Zika virus was spread a few days before symptoms developed. The Zika virus is present much longer in semen than in blood and if you have been infected by the Zika virus, you are likely to be protected from future Zika infections. The Zika virus currently has no vaccine.

In May of 2015 the first case was recorded of autochthonous Zika virus transmission in a thirty-eight-year-old HIV-infected patient who was born and is living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian researchers also have found the Zika virus in urine and saliva but are now unsure if it can be transmitted in that way.

I do think that gay men might be more susceptible to being infected with the Zika virus because one of the ways it is carried is through semen. In the case of the Brazilian patient who is infected with both HIV and the Zika virus, the CD4 count (619) and viral levels (undetectable) of HIV remained the same for four weeks after the patient was infected by the Zika virus. Presently, researchers are engaging in more scientific studies to increase knowledge of the Zika virus and whether or not there is potential of another viral epidemic. Symptoms of the Zika virus can last up to a week, and they can include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (pink eye).

We need to be proactive about finding more about the Zika virus and to not take it lightly. We need to protect ourselves as efficiently and effectively as possible. That protection should be based on education and awareness. In the gay community we have seen such strife and loss and do not need to have another epidemic. We need to make sure that persons in power take us seriously as not only citizens of this country but as human beings.

Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at jsmithco98@hotmail.com.