Health & Medicine

Zika just gave Americans another great reason to practice safe sex

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Mosquitos in a lab at the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia, Feb. 2, 2016.

Credit:

Jaime Saldarriaga

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NEED TO KNOW:

Americans had better learn how to pronounce Zika. The virus is officially no longer just a problem for other countries to deal with — it’s in the United States.

Health officials have confirmed the first case of infection on US soil since the World Health Organization declared Zika a global health emergency. Other people have brought the virus to the US before, having contracted it abroad. Until now, though, none of them are known to have passed it to anyone else. 

That changed with this case in Texas (what is it with that state and spreading scary diseases?). The unnamed patient is thought to have contracted Zika from a person they had sex with, who had earlier traveled to a country with an outbreak of the virus and picked it up the usual way — via a mosquito bite. It’s only the second time ever that Zika is reported to have been transmitted sexually. Scientists believe the virus can be passed on in semen. 

That means that you don’t have to be in a country with Zika-carrying mosquitos — including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and more than 20 other countries in the Americas and Caribbean — to be at risk from infection. With that in mind, and given the effects that the virus is suspected of having on unborn babies, Zika seems like a great reason to practice safe sex.

WANT TO KNOW:

Something to bear in mind next time you hear someone refer to the tens of thousands of people trying to reach the safety of Europe by boat as a “wave,” a “swarm,” or worse: more than a third of those making the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece are kids.

That’s right — according to UNICEF, more than 36 percent of the passengers on those flimsy, overloaded boats are under 18 years old. And so were a fifth of those who didn’t survive the journey last month. In the past five months, 330 children have died trying to cross the waters that separate Turkey — the refuge for more than 1.6 million people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere — and Greece, the gateway to the European Union.

And it’s not just the sea route. Overland, 60 percent of people crossing between Greece and Macedonia are children and women. For the first time since Europe’s migrant crisis began, UNICEF says, more women and children are on the move than men. Do those migrants still sound as frightening now?

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

Drought: It’s nice weather for lions.

Why? Because it’s a disaster for everyone else. In South Africa, currently in the grip of its worst drought in decades, humans have been feeling the effects for months. Many areas are short of drinking water, crops are withering and food prices climbing. Now the livestock has started dying. And if rains don’t come soon — and hard — bigger animals will be next.

According to rangers at Kruger National Park, the hippos will be some of the first affected. All the large grazers, in fact, who are struggling to find enough to eat. The drought forces them away from the water holes where they prefer to spend their days and into the open to search for greenery. 

Who’s that good for? Predators. Big cats stand to clean up from the weakening of their prey. Sure, tourists might be a little shocked to see lions stalking emaciated buffalo, but nature rarely plays nice. As one park official told GlobalPost: “Those with strong genes will survive.”