Zika poses a real threat to college-aged students, an expert says. Here's what to do about it.

Hosting panels, handing out bug spray, and treating standing water could help

Colleges across the South are taking preventative measures, but an expert from the American College Health Association encourages all U.S. schools to create a Zika response plan, Kasia Kovacs writes for Inside Higher Ed. 

Out of the 3,358 known cases of Zika in the United States, 700 occurred in Florida—home to major universities that include the University of Miami (UM), Florida International University, and University of Florida.

All three schools are taking measures to prepare their campuses for Zika, as are Tulane University, University of Maryland, College Park, and University of Texas at Austin.

To prevent Zika's transmission, schools are:

  • Treating or eliminating still water where Zika-carrying mosquitos tend to breed;
  • Giving students condoms to prevent sexual transmission of the virus;
  • Handing out bottles of mosquito repellent to students; and
  • Instructing students to wear long sleeves.

The virus' immediate symptoms and impact tend to be mild, so campus leaders report that some students aren't very concerned. 

So far, "The consensus [among students] has been, 'I'm not planning on getting pregnant, so it doesn't matter to me,'" says Julie Harans, the editor of UM's student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane.

But Zika has been not only been linked to microcephaly in fetuses exposed to the virus, but also to a risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes temporary paralysis, in adults. Experts continue to test for other long-term effects on brain development and overall health for both children and adults.

Colleges have launched comprehensive communication efforts to explain these potential risks and their response plans. Education efforts include:

  • Leading panels for faculty, staff, and students;
  • Posting informative signs throughout campus;
  • Publishing Zika facts and prevention tips to their websites; and
  • Giving consultations to students who return from travel in high risk countries.

Tim Moody, chair of the coalition on emerging public health threats and emergency response at the American College Health Association, urges all colleges in the country to make a Zika response plan. He recommends looking to the CDC's "Interim Response Plan" as an example (Kovacs, Inside Higher Ed, 10/3).

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