Restaurants and hotels in Granada are empty, the Masaya market weirdly deserted, even the popular Laguna de Apoyo is suffering. And, together with the rest of tourism in Nicaragua, La Mariposa is reeling under the impact of zika. The outcome for us could well be fatal. The whole of 2016 saw a massive drop in the numbers of our students especially from the USA – adverse publicity around the upcoming Nicaraguan elections (Nov 6th) may be partly responsible. But almost everyone is agreed that the main reason travel plans are being changed or cancelled is the zika scare.
If you are thinking of travelling to this part of the world then obviously you must take into account all of the risks – I would just enter a plea that in the case of zika, you read some of the more detailed evidence and commentaries, not just the scary headlines. On the 4th October 2016 there were precisely SIX confirmed cases of Zika in the municipality of La Concepción (population over 50,000).
The link between the zika virus and babies born with microcephaly is far from proven and there are some important questions that need to be answered before firm conclusions can be drawn. My head is buzzing after several days doing internet research – one of major questions in my mind is why does Colombia (with the second greatest number of cases of zika) not show the same rise in numbers of microcephaly as the northeastern part of Brazil – and why only one part of Brazil? Mosquitoes don’t generally respect borders. Is it also pure coincidence that most of the mothers affected are the extremely poor or could malnutrition also be responsible? And that this is a region where pesticide use has been particularly intensive? Could any of these other factors be significant in causing microcephaly? And what of the existing 25,000 cases in the USA that have no link whatsoever with zika – what has caused them?
The Foundation for Children with Microcephaly lists as possible causes – rubella, fetal exposure to the herpes virus, mothers drug or alcohol abuse, toxoplasmosis, malnutrition….no mention of zika which seems rather odd (http://www.childrenwithmicro.org/causes.html). I have listed below some of the internet sites I have found helpful in putting this situation into some perspective, as well as the basic World Health Organisation and CDC sites.
At current rate of income, we have sufficient savings to survive another 6 weeks or so with all of the workers already on half time and everything else pared down to the bone . Our estimated income for October is $8000, the outgoings are $16000. So at some point, and not too long in the future, we have to make some hard decisions. At the very least we will have to close down the community and environmental projects, saving $1500 per week. A back up plan is to sell part of La Mariposa in the hope that we can keep the school and hotel going until the zika crisis passes. Complete closure is a last resort – I am having nightmares about 75 families losing their income and what will happen to 50 rescued dogs and 20 horses, not to mention the monkeys and parrots! We have already started trying to get some of them adopted. Of course some workers have been able to find other work and we have already lost some of our best Spanish teachers to call centers. Hopefully we can entice them back if things improve. But for the majority, especially those who do not speak English, it will not be so easy. Below is a photograph of our project for disabled children.
Here at La Mariposa we rely on natural predators to control mosquitos, keeping the place clean of trash and stagnant water and regular applications around the gardens of lime, a strong repellent. The wonderful golden orb spider helps by spinning vast webs which are great mosquito traps.The number of cases of chikungunya last year (carried by the same mosquito as zika) was the same as in the community in general. We also have a natural repellent (alcohol, oil and cloves) which is very good though most people prefer to use DEET (see http://responsibletravelnicaragua.com/2016/02/10/why-war-on-zika-could-be-bad-for-your-health/).
Our advice to travellers is to use plenty of repellent, of whatever sort suits you best, wear cover up clothing and be especially alert around dusk when mosquitoes are at their most numerous.