Family

He spent his life studying mosquitoes, and then it became personal.

After working in Senegal, this scientist accidentally discovered very important info about Zika.

He spent his life studying mosquitoes, and then it became personal.
True
March of Dimes

On Aug. 30, 2008, Brian Foy had just gotten home from a research trip in Senegal, a country in West Africa, when he began to feel sick.

Foy is a biologist specializing in insect-transmitted diseases and an associate professor at Colorado State University. He had been in rural Senegal with a graduate student researching malaria and noticed that when he got back, he felt not quite right.

Foy (right) with equipment for aspirating mosquitoes in Senegal. Image via Brian Foy, used with permission.


"It started out by me just feeling really exhausted," Foy says. "It was hard to really know if this was just jet lag or not ... and then that exhaustion just progressed into a vague headache. I really needed to cover my eyes and kind of shy away from the light."

He developed a rash across his torso and joint pain. He later got prostatitis as well.

Foy immediately called the graduate student who had been working with him in Senegal. He had many of the same symptoms.

Both suspected that their symptoms were classic signs of an arbovirus — a type of virus, such as dengue, that is often caught after being bitten by mosquitoes.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the species that transmits the Zika, chikungunya, dengue, and yellow fever arboviruses. Photo by Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images.

After all, they had been working in remote villages for about a month and a half, collecting mosquitoes for a malaria study. And both of the researchers had been bitten numerous times by numerous different kinds of mosquitoes.

"We’d work into the late evening with shorts and sandals," Foy remembers. So, it made sense that they caught the virus while they were there.

But then, Foy’s wife got sick too.

She hadn’t been to Senegal. She hadn’t even left northern Colorado for a while, but she had many of the same symptoms: sensitivity to light, a rash, swollen joints, muscle pain, and bloodshot eyes. In fact, he says, her symptoms almost seemed more severe. "To this day, she has trouble opening and closing cans, jars, and lids, things like that," he says.  

All three sent their blood to be tested at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A lab technician analyses blood samples. Photo by Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

But the CDC couldn’t determine what they had right away. It wasn’t until a whole year later — after all three had long recovered — that they received a diagnosis.

They had Zika.

Zika is indeed a mosquito-borne arbovirus, as Foy had suspected he had, but it just wasn’t one that he (or the CDC) had thought to test for in 2008.

"Even though I had heard of the Zika virus, I didn’t really know much about it," Foy says. "[And] the first time we tested our blood, the CDC wasn’t really thinking about Zika either."

It was only after Foy’s graduate student went back to Senegal that he got the recommendation to re-test their blood for Zika, which was beginning to become more widely known due to rising infection numbers. "So, it took a long time — unfortunately that’s science sometimes," he adds.

This is a digitally-colorized transmission electron microscopic (TEM) image of Zika virus, which is colored red. Image via Cynthia Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zika has been around since 1947, but it has become a lot more widely known — and covered in the news — since it reached pandemic proportions in South America in 2015 and 2016. And in September 2016, urged by numerous organizations including the March of Dimes, Congress approved $1.1 billion to help fight the spread and effects of the Zika virus through vaccine research and health care.

The virus doesn’t always cause symptoms, but when it does, the more common symptoms are the ones that Foy, his wife, and his graduate student experienced.

However, it can also cause complications, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, and a Zika infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects, notably microcephaly, where a baby's head is smaller than expected and typically includes brain damage. In severe cases, it can cause a range of other health problems — including seizures, hearing loss, or vision problems — or be life threatening.

The fact that Foy’s wife was diagnosed with Zika too, without traveling, and that their kids were not sick meant something important: The virus was most probably transmitted through sex.

Until that point, it had been assumed that Zika could only be spread by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Aedes aegypti mosquitos in a lab. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Foy wrote about his experience with sexual transmission of Zika in a scientific journal in 2011, but his case was considered largely anecdotal until this past year, when the CDC officially confirmed that Zika is sexually transmittable.

"In places like Brazil, where people are being bitten by mosquitoes and having sex, it’s hard to distinguish what the route of transmission was," he says. It is only when travelers come home that it becomes clear that it has been transmitted sexually.

And the fact that Zika can be sexually transmitted is incredibly important information, especially to families that are thinking of having a baby. The news even prompted some affected countries, such as El Salvador, to advise women not to get pregnant until 2018 (sparking controversy in some countries where birth control and abortions are hard to obtain or banned).

Since this discovery, the CDC has issued a number of guidelines to help protect travelers from Zika.

The CDC says that tourists — especially pregnant women — should protect themselves while they are in these countries, but they should also continue to protect themselves, either by abstaining from sex or using condoms, when they get home so they don’t pass along the virus to their partners. Women are advised to use condoms for at least eight weeks after travel, men for at least six months.

Women should be especially careful if they are pregnant. The CDC says it might be worth postponing any nonessential travel to countries with the virus to avoid getting a mosquito bite in the first place.

Aedes aegypti mosquitos in containers at a lab in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images.

Foy’s case shows just how important further research on Zika is.

And this is why, today, he is continuing his work on Zika, with the goal to better understand sexual transmission of the virus. In particular, he is hoping to understand why women contract it more often than men — and if, as in the case of his wife, their symptoms are more severe.

With further research, the goal for all scientists is to not only better understand the virus, but also help all of us better learn how to protect ourselves and those we love.  

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less