Looking Back on Zika a Year Later

This New York Times article tells about how the response to the Zika epidemic left us with more questions than answers. The article speaks to the dangers we are facing now that there was not a coherent way in which the epidemic was handled. Because tourists and residents were given different advice on how to avoid contracting the virus, there are now children being born with brain damage and medical bills are increasing. While there were some positive outcomes (for example, the virus not being spread during the Rio Olympics), the public health community failed overall.

I did not find this article to be entirely compelling. There was no clear lede or nut graph. Even with the subheadings, the article seemed relatively unorganized. Additionally, the article itself seemed to simply summarize all of the other articles on Zika within the past year instead of providing new information. Why is this relevant now if there is nothing new? What should the author have added to the article to make it more compelling?


15 Responses to “Looking Back on Zika a Year Later”

  1. I agree with you Hallie that there were many points of weakness in this article. In my opinion, it seemed very disorganized. Pros and cons were presented at seemingly random times throughout the piece. Instead, I would have laid out the positives of the public health response altogether, and then explained all of the ways the program failed to help ease confusion for the reader.

    However, I do disagree with your argument that there exist no additional value in compiling information from a variety of sources to defend one’s thesis. As consumers of information, our time is valuable, and many of us cannot browse through the hundreds of articles and reports published by the media and scientific experts on a single topic. By synthesizing all of the information under one central thesis, the author has effectively allowed readers to visualize a snapshot of the both the positives and negatives of the Zika response.

    One aspect of the article that I really enjoyed was the ending. I think the author did a terrific job in allowing his readers to ponder on what could happen in the future, and how it can impact a variety of people across the world. Ending on a quote that mentions how this could happen again without an introduction of a vaccine casts doubt in the reader’s mind and encourages individuals to become more aware of the potential consequences if we as a society do not learn from the past.

    • I totally agree. I think this article could have been broken up into two or three separate articles, as it was hard to follow at times. However, it offered a glimpse into many aspects of the Zika outbreak: how the public health community responded to Zika in different parts of the world, why they responded the way they did, and what the ramifications of their responses are. I also appreciated that the article contrasted how the Zika virus was addressed in Central America versus the US, and how the political climate of the US impacted the response to Zika on a global scale. I think most people reading this article have not witnessed Zika virus first hand, and feel very removed from the virus and its ramifications. This made it feel somewhat closer to me or easier to understand, since our partisan political system and aversion to discussing birth control and abortions on a political platform are things all Americans are familiar with. It was fascinating to see how this affected the response to the Zika virus.

  2. I think the Zika virus articles help to shed light on many public health issues that we face, especially as cities become more crowded. Differences in demographics across the vast regions that epidemics can occur in definitely impose a constraint on how we can treat disease. These differences can create ethical dilemmas in trying to reconcile cultural aspects of a population and the methods of fighting off disease. An interesting method of combating Zika is through the usage of genetically modified sterilized mosquitos. Genetically modified male mosquitos introduced to a population would prevent repopulation and inhibit the transmission of the Zika virus through offspring. This may be an interesting alternative to the conventional approaches taken to combat the epidemic and it can work for any area effected. For more information you can read this article:


    • The sterile insect technique is interesting, but infections with bacteria have shown even more promise. Inoculation of mosquito eggs with Wolbachia results in a population of mosquitoes that dengue virus cannot replicate inside, and these mosquitoes will also pass the bacterium down to their offspring. Wolbachia has also shown promise in inhibiting chikungunya, yellow fever, Zika, and West Nile viruses, in addition to some species of malaria parasite. Field trials have also shown no evidence that the bacterium will be transmitted from mosquitoes to humans (or to any other animals) through bites, predation, or otherwise.

      After all, even if every mosquito in South America could be eliminated through the sterile insect technique, what’s to stop them from moving back in to such a favorable habitat after officials stop releasing sterile mosquitoes? In the long term, it will be much cheaper, simpler, and cost-effective to establish a population of disease-resistant mosquitoes through bacterial inoculation. It seems counterintuitive, but until we can develop vaccines for humans, the evidence shows that we should try to vaccinate mosquitoes.


  3. Overall, I think the reporter presented a comprehensive outlook of the effects of the Zika virus on the global population yet there are some ways in which the author could have better presented the issue. The intent of the article seemed to be to provide a loaded history of Zika which is presented in a way that is not accessible to the reader. If the author intended to provide an overlook of what happened, a timeline format would have sufficed. The part of the article that was new and most interesting to me was the comment about gynecologists privately saying they, without the support of the CDC or WHO, had offered abortion to patients whose ultrasound scans showed abnormalities. I wished the author could have expanded more on this as this is an issue which is not discussed in mainstream news and offers a unique angle to the story. Also, the author repeatedly refers to the Zika virus as a global health emergency, yet he fails to explain the gravity of this or what criteria a disease has to meet to be considered a global health emergency. Another way to improve the article would be to adding historical context by addressing what about the Zika epidemic is unique to other outbreaks of the past—and then potentially ending with what lessons public health officials have learned that may change how they move forward in the future.

    • I think it did a good job diving into how the different motives of researchers and politicians either helped or hindered the process. It is possible the article attempts to do too much, and therefore does not go into enough depth on certain subjects–such as the gynecologists you mentioned. I found myself slightly confused in this section, because the author quotes that you cannot even touch abortion in politics, and the CDC wanted to recommend it. Though I feel the article could’ve been better formatted, I still think its content was interesting and catches the audience’s attention. It has a lede, a nut graph, a body, and I especially liked the closing kicker with a quote from Dr. Weaver suggesting the continuation of viruses similar to Zika arising without action. In response to the original question, I think that is the main point for this article–to get people interested and motivated to create a vaccine. But, I agree it would be better with details for the nut graph, because we are not given many facts or numbers to understand the severity of Zika, and would have to do additional research to fully understand the need for further action.

  4. Hallie:
    Thanks for kicking off our blog discussion with such an in-depth and interesting article! I was most impressed at the quality and quantity of experts interviewed. The journalist clearly made an effort to ensure that the views expressed came from leading experts. I’m curious what you all thought of the headline as well as the sub-heads. I thought this piece had a very strong point of view and the headline, “How the Response to Zika Failed Millions” was quite strong. Even though the journalist provides much evidence for a lacking response to Zika, the headline conveys the tone of an editorial. Journalists usually don’t write their own headlines, so I’m curious if the editor was looking for a way to grab readers and ensure more people were enticed to viewing the piece. The same can be said for the strongly worded sub-heads, like “Politics Got in the Way” and “A Dangerous Disconnect.” This overall tone is something to be aware of as you consume environment and public health news for this class and when you write your own articles.

  5. To me the use of the sub-headlines was a constructive way to kind of organize an article that discusses many different factors contributing to the overall outcome of failing to address the Zika pandemic. I would say the use of such a strong headline does grab the attention of the reader, especially if readers may think that since the virus here in the U.S. was controlled and eliminated that it does not have an effect elsewhere. To me the most interesting evidence for a lack of response to Zika was when it was mentioned that “health authorities, fearful of offending religious conservatives, never seriously discussed abortion…even in countries where abortion is legal.” Since when has simply informing someone of the negative health impacts of a certain virus an issue for doctors? You are not telling people what to do or forcing them to make any decisions they do not wish, so how is that interfering with their woman’s rights? The journalist does a good job addressing the issue of officials failing to address the public health concerns of the Zika virus to impacted regions.

  6. I also felt that the organization of the article left something to be desired. One of the first things I noticed that the lede was weak and rather dry, and the most interesting aspect, the “ridiculously racist hypocrisy,” was left for further down the page. Even an introduction regarding the weakness of health organizations to act because of political ramifications is far more interesting than a brief summary of the zika crisis as a whole. The lede and the following question, “how’d we do?” fail to excite or even to convey the same severity of the title or the focus of the article as a whole. Finally, as some have mentioned, the not-at-all neutral sub-headlines make it difficult for the reader to come to their own conclusions. Rather than relying on facts and stats to convince the reader of the serious nature of biases within the health community, it seems editorialized, which is a shame, because the core of the story is really quite interesting and compelling.

  7. I strongly agree that the overall lack of consistency made the article very confusing. There were so many different statistics, experts opinions, and viewpoints that I had nearly forgotten the original question the article was supposed to explain: “How’d we do?” Toward the very end of the article, McNeil brings up another question: “Will the virus return?” To this, he ends the article with a quote from a scientist expressing vulnerability and uncertainty. McNeil’s answers to “How’d we do?” can be seen plainly in his sub-headings and throughout the majority of the article. The article was structured in a way that highlight the messy conflicts and uncertainties that described the process of managing Zika. By doing this and leaving that last concerning question with an open-ended answer, I think McNeil is making a statement about the concerns about the lack of information, as well as his disposition toward what he expects in the future.

    In terms of relevance, I do think that it is valid and timely to write an article questioning the (lack of) information and the future concerns. However, it did seem like the article’s main intention was to arouse concern rather than provide news. It definitely seemed more like an editorial, in that he seemed like he was trying to persuade more than inform. To what extent can you express your opinion and have it still be news? Is neutrality always necessary for news to have value?

  8. I certainly agree that this article didn’t provide a substantial amount of new information regarding the Zika epidemic, and unfortunately the organization of the article left me without a clear answer to the question it was trying to answer. It was hard to keep track of the positives and negatives regarding global response to the epidemic when they were scattered throughout the article. I thought there was some editorializing in a few areas as well, such as when the author stated that families of children born with “brain-damaged babies” were “already suffering”.
    With all of that said, I think the article’s relevance comes in the form of addressing this issue from a new angle, which is one of reflection flavored with political reasoning for why certain decisions were or weren’t made in response to the Zika epidemic in different countries. During this epidemic, and the one involving Ebola, I’ve heard blame placed on Western nations, including the US, for not caring about the epidemics’ impacts until they reached our shores. One of the individuals quoted in this article even said that it was a “ridiculously racist hypocrisy”. This article sheds light onto alternative reasons for why the epidemic became as widespread as it did, and I think they avoided placing blame on any individual, service, or government. It’s easy for the masses to become enflamed or enraged at a group; we feel the need to place blame, and this article tries to address how politics and culture in general interfered with the response to this crisis.

  9. I might also agree that the author is rather unorganized. The organization of paragraphs is particularly irritating because they seem to be too broken up. Some of the quotes are separated from any analysis about them (if there was any added commentary at all) and subjects are more fragmented than necessary. It seems to create a bit of drama to the story and makes it more difficult to focus on the article’s important subject matter and how it all connects.

    I think that this article is relevant now because we are almost a year out from when Zika epidemic was declared a global health emergency by the W.H.O. and it is good to take a moment to review and compile what we know about the subject. With the emergency status having been removed in November it seems that the spread of the infection (by mosquitoes) has been thoroughly contained but now we still must stop to understand the consequences going forward based of how far the disease did spread, and how devastating its effects can be.

    In order to make this piece more compelling I might suggest that the author reorganize the piece to group the positives and negatives together when talking about them as I feel that their contrast wasn’t that compelling for the piece because they weren’t always well related. Some transitions were weak and didn’t always make connections clear. It also seemed that similar information was presented multiple times but in different places in the article. It would have been more compelling to present that information together, I believe.

  10. I’d like to comment on the conclusion of the piece, which has its pros and cons. The concluding paragraphs send the reader in a new direction that makes us wonder whether a Zika vaccine will be developed in the future. On the plus side, this entices people to consider the future of Zika with regards to vaccination research. It shines a light on the pharmaceutical industry to find a solution, which was hardly touched upon in the article. This also entices people to read more on the developing technological solutions surrounding Zika. However this slightly irked me… It seemed to put the weight on the shoulders of tech and pharmaceutical companies when many of the issues that led to the epidemic were informational, political, and social problems. Wouldn’t it be weird to have an article on the cancer causing effects of hot dogs and then end the article with: “what are pharmaceutical companies doing to treat this cancer?” While there is an obvious difference between hot dogs and mosquito bites, each generate problems due to a lack of information on the subject.

  11. Going off of what Arjan said, I actually did not think the ending of the article was effective. Based on the body content, which discussed primarily the differences between responses to the virus in the US and affected countries in the Western Hemisphere (in a haphazard organization that others have commented on), I expected the article to instead form a question about how we many go about improving our response to viruses in the future, and not the seemingly trivial question of whether a virus will return or what epidemic we will face next, both of which are largely unknowns or out of our hands based on current research. Despite this, I do think the article did a good job of synthesizing the response to the Zika epidemic and provided a broader perspective for those less familiar with the way the virus had been treated in countries like Brazil.

  12. Very interesting to read all of your comments on this article. Overall I think it is instructive to look at past outbreaks and how the public health response failed or succeeded, with the goal of informing the next response. However, I also think there are a lot of things that we cannot fully understand within a few months of a public health emergency being declared “over”. The uncertainty many of you pointed to at the end of the article is likely a product of that incomplete understanding. Nevertheless it is certainly a good idea to keep public health officials (and the politicians who make funding decisions) honest by providing a critique of the overall response. Looking forward to discussing this and other topics with you all tomorrow!

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