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

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

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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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

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