Zika Virus and Migrants: What do clinicians need to know?

[Editor’s note: This guest blog post comes from Migrant Clinicians Network’s active blog, “Clinician-to-clinician: A Forum for Health Justice.” Migrant Clinicians Network is a nonprofit focused on health justice for the mobile poor. Visit Migrant Clinicians Network’s Zika page for more information on the Zika virus and what it means for migrant populations like agricultural workers.]

As we head into the warmest months in the Northern Hemisphere, the Zika virus continues to dominate the news. The World Health Organization strengthened its recommendations regarding sexual transmission of the virus. Meanwhile, Congress in the US continued to battle over how much public health spending is enough to fight Zika here in the states. The news was also filled with personal stories, of pregnant women in the midst of perilous migrations out of Central America, less concerned with the risks of Zika than of the dangers of remaining in their homelands. As with other health needs, these migrants are an underserved population that, even if they reach the US, may not be able to access health care or even basic health education on Zika that most others can, due to compounding barriers, including cultural and linguistic barriers, fear of immigration status, lack of transportation, and lack of basic information on locally available health services.

In addition to these serious barriers that limit migrants’ health education and basic health care access, migrants may actually have a higher risk of contracting Zika. Many migrants traveling to the US are from areas of outbreak, and may arrive in the US after exposure. And, as concerns of the virus reaching the mainland United States over the summer grow, migrants who work outdoors like migratory agricultural workers will be at a greater risk of exposure simply by their increased risk of mosquito bites. Many of these workers, due to poverty and availability of housing, return after work to homes that lack screens on doors and windows. Substandard housing once again ups their risk of mosquito bites, which augments further their risk of contracting the Zika virus.

Consequently, as we note in MCN's new Zika Virus information page, when it comes to the Zika virus, migrants like migratory agricultural workers may warrant greater attention from clinicians in the exam room. Visit MCN’s new Zika Virus page to learn the basics of this disease and the migrant clinician’s role in serving the health needs of migrants who may be at greater risk of exposure to Zika.