While the threat of the Zika virus and worry of its spread are just now reaching the U.S., Oklahoma State University graduate Lauren Steverson is one of nearly four million whom the World Health Organization estimates will contract the mosquito-borne virus this year.
Steverson, 23, of Tuttle, is a missionary currently living in Cabaret, Haiti, located in the southwest part of the country just north of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Steverson was infected by a mosquito carrying the virus there a little more than two weeks ago.
“I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever,” Steverson said. “I had a headache and back pain…and the rash, for me, wasn’t that bad.” By the end of her short illness, the itchy rash had spread to her chest, face, arms and legs.
Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted disease discovered in Uganda in 1947. It’s related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus, and spread primarily through the Aedes mosquito, according to the CDC.
Haiti is one of more than two dozen countries in the Caribbean, South and Central America, Mexico and the Pacific Islands where the mosquito-borne virus is spreading.
While there have been no local transmissions of the virus in the U.S., the CDC has told pregnant women to consider postponing travel to many parts of Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands where Zika is spreading. The CDC also recently opened an emergency operations center staffed around the clock to address Zika.
By the time she got sick, Steverson was prepared. Other people in Cabaret had contracted the virus shortly before she did. Since she’s not pregnant, Steverson took a pain reliever and let the disease run its course.
“Most people don’t know about it until it happens to them,” she said. “There’s some fear of the unknown, but it’s not nearly as bad as some are making it sound.”