Puerto Ricans in Denial about Zika


The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes commonly found in Puerto Rico and Florida. /photo courtesy CDC

It’s going to be a tough haul fighting the Zika virus.

Not only because Congress left town without authorizing additional funds to combat the mosquito-borne virus. Not only because the Obama administration states that it’s almost out of money left over from the Ebola scare to fight Zika. But also because there’s a great deal of skepticism particularly among Puerto Ricans about whether Zika exists or if the whole thing is a plot to reduce the Puerto Rican population.

Yes, you read correctly.

The New York Times recently wrote about the laissez faire attitude re Zika among Puerto Ricans on the island, which is making it hard to fight the virus. Puerto Rico has the largest Zika outbreak under the U.S. flag – nearly 5,482 cases as of August 3 and counting, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Cases jump 20 to 30 percent a week, according to island health officials. A 79-year old island man died due to Zika.

I heard the skepticism for myself this week during a presentation about the growing numbers and influence of Puerto Ricans in Florida.

I’m heartbroken.

But I strongly dissent.


I’m paraphrasing here but during the presentation a pastor said to strong audience approval, “I’m suspicious about the Zika ‘crisis.’ This could be a plot to reduce the population of Puerto Rico.”

The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is fraught with distrust – a distrust that has always been latent but is now in full bloom, given the island’s financial crisis and the U.S.-controlled financial oversight board that soon will govern Puerto Rico, in a throwback to the U.S. takeover of the island in 1898.

Many instances of “colonial” mismanagement and downright experimentation – the sterilization of women and birth control pill, for instance – on the Puerto Rican people have led to this day. In a huge bungle, most recently the CDC sent a shipment to Puerto Rico of the Zika-fighting pesticide Naled, apparently without the governor’s or administration’s consent, creating an uproar.

As of August 5, Puerto Rico has no effective way of fighting the Zika virus. None.

Science doesn’t appear to be on the side of the conspiracy-minded folks. And the skeptical attitude among authority figures and others is detrimental to Puerto Ricans.

Detriment to Puerto Ricans

The fact is, the island is a haven for the aedes aegypti, the same  mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya, also widespread on the island. The mosquito bears the Zika virus.

The CDC reports 1,800 Zika cases in the continental United States, almost all travel-related. However, the 5,482 cases found in Puerto Rico are nearly all mosquito-transmitted. 

A sampling of blood donations in Puerto Rico found that nearly 2 percent carried the Zika virus, which can lead to birth defects in the fetuses of pregnant women. That is only among a small sample of blood donors, not the general population in which the infection rate may be higher. Many people do not know they are carrying Zika because they do not experience symptoms.

Here’s a sobering figure: The CDC estimates 25 percent of the island’s population may contract Zika. That’s close to 900,000 people.

Don’t forget – Zika can be sexually transmitted, so it’s not only the mosquito you have to watch out for but also your partners. “Sex includes vaginal, anal, oral sex, and the sharing of sex toys,” states the CDC.


In a bid to fend off Zika, the abortion rate is rising among women in Puerto Rico, plus doctors are advising patients to delay pregnancy – all of which may make the island’s population decrease more acute.

The Puerto Rico Planning Board already reported that there are more deaths than births in Puerto Rico as a result of historical outmigration. Zika may accelerate the downward population spiral.

Zika in Florida

Zika-carrying mosquitoes were found in the Wynwood area of Miami-Dade, the nation’s first area of active mosquito-borne Zika transmission. Wynwood is a gentrifying neighborhood for decades known as “Little San Juan,” meaning it contains a large Puerto Rican population.

The Miami Herald reported that aerial spraying of Naled over Wynwood this week significantly reduced the Zika-carrying mosquitoes – so much so that the state lifted the public health alert in the one square-mile area. After only one spraying. 

The messy U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship has created denial among Puerto Ricans about Zika. I get that.

But Puerto Ricans need to cast aside their doubts and do all they can to fight the Zika disease. Puerto Ricans will be the biggest beneficiaries.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor 

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