YMCA hosts presentation about Zika virus

The Petersburg Family YMCA was visited by Southside Infectious Disease Specialists Dr. Clifton Hawkes on Thursday, who came to give a presentation about the Zika virus. Hawkes was a micro biology major when he was in school at Virginia State. He received his medical degree from VCU. He participated in the Reserve Officer’s Training Core (ROTC) when he was a student at Virginia State. The army funded his medical school training. His presentation on Thursday was a presentation to raise awareness for the Zika virus, which is mainly spread through mosquitos.

“My experiences have been somewhat unique,” Hawkes said. “They’ve been somewhat fostered by my being in the military and able to deploy.”

Hawkes talked about the Zika virus, and it’s similarity to diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola.

“What happens in infectious diseases is what happens,” Hawkes said. “Ebola came along and such anxiety was produced by the threat of Ebola, and after that was Chikungunya which was another viral infection, and now the Zika Virus.”

According to Hawkes’ presentation, Zika outbreaks occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands before 2015. Currently, outbreaks are occurring in many countries. Symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis or red eyes. He also explained that Zika infection can be especially harmful to women who are pregnant.

“In the area of infectious diseases, one of the biggest threats we face now are these so called super bugs,” Hawkes said. “They’re resistant to almost every antibiotic that we have. We’re trying to wage a war against allowing these organisms to become so common, as to be the rule rather than the exception.”

Infectious diseases are Dr. Hawkes main area of expertise. He specializes with hospital-acquired infections, wound infections, tropical medicine, HIV/AIDS, travel medicine and Viral Hepatitis B and C.

“Right now, these diseases are not overwhelming,” Dr. Hawkes said. “However, the numbers are increasing. The problem is, the more resistance you have, we have to use different antibiotics which puts those antibiotics at risk and we’ve got to develop new antibiotics. I find that somewhat frustrating but I also find it challenging in infectious diseases, to have to be able to adapt to differences if a new virus is coming along.”

Hawkes delivered his presentation on the Zika virus because Zika is one of the newer diseases which is causing problems right now. Which the disease can be spread through mosquitos, it can also spread through sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, organ and tissue transplants, fertility treatment and breastfeeding. It’s especially dangerous when an infected pregnant woman and give it to their unborn child, which can cause birth defects.

“I think that right now, this is one that’s on people’s minds,” Hawkes said. “You’re hearing something about it every day. You find case reports of someone dying from it. What I thought was interesting was this man who developed Zika infection from taking care of someone with Zika. That kind of raises a question of ‘are there other means of transmission?’ Any secretion from an Ebola patient is infectious, but that’s not thought to be the case with Zika.”   

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