Should Mission Teams Fear the Zika Virus?

Cindy with girl
CHICAGO, IL (February 5, 2016) — Medical missionary Cindy Hoover said churches planning mission trips to areas impacted by the Zika virus should take appropriate precautions, but not fear traveling to those countries.

Hoover, who serves in Oaxaca, Mexico, said the exception would be pregnant women. The infection is spread largely by mosquitos although it may also be spread through sexual contact.

“Groups can actually choose to embrace this situation as an opportunity to do purposeful, useful ministry in the location they visit,” Hoover said. She added that mosquito control and bite protection will be among the activities of a North Park University group going to Oaxaca in March for a health mission/vision trip.

“While we can choose whether to visit an affected country or not, those living there need to have reliable and affordable ways to ameliorate the risk,” Hoover said. “(The North Park trip) is still in the planning stages, but we’re looking at educational aspects, practical environmental actions, and even the possibility of working with Oaxacans to make a natural bug repellent that consists of oil of lemon eucaplyptus mixed with witch hazel.”

Groups can actually choose to embrace this situation as an opportunity to do purposeful, useful ministry in the location they visit

She added, “Health ministry is bringing God’s shalom, wholeness, and health to a broken world. Control of this infection definitely qualifies as health ministry.”

Hoover suggested that anyone traveling in the affected areas visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for information on the virus, including a list of precautions, such as covering as much skin as possible with light-colored long sleeves, long pants, and frequent application of a bug repellent that has been shown to be effective in preventing bites from the Aedes mosquito.

virus mosquitoAlthough many home remedies and testimonials may be found online, Hoover cautioned, “Only DEET, picardin (Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, Autan), lemon eucalyptic oil (Repel, Off! Botanicals), and IR3535 (Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition, SkinSmart) have been shown to be reliably effective.” She added that visitors also should bring enough repellent to last the entire trip because it can be much more difficult and expensive to find locally.

Other precautions include making sure there are screens on windows and doors, avoiding standing water or piles of trash, and using bed nets.

While on the trip, “Individuals should pay attention to any possible low-grade Zika infection. While it might not cause great distress at that time, it could present problems in the future from secondary issues or transmission of infection to local mosquitoes,” Hoover said.

According to the CDC website, “The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.”

However, the outbreak has led to reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.

Hoover said that mission teams who want to help through health ministry similar to the North Park trip can contact her for more information.

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Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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