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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.
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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.  

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

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Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.