Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Love in the time of Zika

I SEE red everywhere.

A change of traffic lights from green to red gave us time to look at the displays laid out by street florists. White blossoms dominated funeral wreaths but red drenched, oozed and glistened everywhere, from the single long-stemmed beauty to the impressive bouquets resembling armor de amor or shields attracting, not deflecting, Cupid’s aims.

The son teased that I was afflicted with a bad case of Valentine-itis. I retorted that any Bisdak (native Cebuano) stuck in Junquera, Cebu’s historic red-light district, would be forgiven for thinking about love in the time of Zika.

Two coming holidays put the spotlight on couples. Chinese New Year ushers in feng shui predictions that augur what’s in store for love and money, two indispensables that drive the world mad.

And then there’s Feb. 14, which releases even more molten sentiments about the timeless quest for one’s half.

Waltzing lazily into this steamy scene is a spindly-legged, hump-backed fellow with the longest ardor-cooling proboscis: Aedes aegypti mosquito.

One of the smallest creatures is taking on the behemoths of church and state in the fight often tagged as “God vs. Evil,” or the reproductive health wars.

Last Feb. 2, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the “explosive spread” of the Zika virus as a “global emergency.” The mosquito-spread virus spiked the birth of babies with brain defects in the Americas.

A day after, the US Centers for Disease Control announced cases of infection transmitted through sex. In countries with Zika outbreaks, desperate governments have urged women to put pregnancy on hold for the next two years.

This stance seems to draw a clear line between the choices open to couples: practice protected sex or consider the abortion of babies born with life-crippling defects. The two options don’t have the endorsement of the Catholic church.

Whatever the religion, many women balk at contemplating the idea of killing the unborn out of fear that one will be unable to care for it throughout its life.

The WHO also advised pregnant women to avoid travelling to about two dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean experiencing Zika outbreaks.

The modern loosening of restrictions—in travel and sexual mores, for instance—has been seen as contributing to the explosion of diseases. This observation has invited a panoply of reactions, from the fire-and-brimstone condemnation that sinners are being punished by the wrath of God to the more rational and less hysterical approach of taking stock of one’s actions, applying restraint, and adopting self-help to counter threats.

Our health authorities advise vigilance against Zika, which begins with cleanliness of home and community. To prevent mosquitoes from breeding, the public must empty containers that trap rain and water and cooperate with communal fogging or fumigation.

The public is also advised to monitor loved ones exhibiting symptoms of Zika infection, such as fever, headache, and abdominal pain, and bring them to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) centers. In Cebu, the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center is RITM-trained.

More effectively than the state and the church, an infected insect has made us aware of the consequences of our actions on others. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 7, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column

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