College of Liberal Arts

NIH Funds Five-Year Study on Women's Response to Zika in Brazil

Thu, Nov 15, 2018
Aedes aegypti is the primary mosquito vector for Zika virus. Photo by James Gathany/CDC.
Aedes aegypti is the primary mosquito vector for Zika virus. Photo by James Gathany/CDC.

In spring 2015, a Zika virus outbreak struck Brazil, making it the first report of locally-acquired Zika in the Americas. Three years later, researchers are still unpacking all of its consequences, particularly the grave impact it has had on women’s reproductive health and unborn children, who, if infected, are at a greater risk of being born with the neurological disorder microcephaly and other congenital syndromes.

To understand how women in Brazil have responded to this heightened risk, the National Institutes of Health awarded a $3.5 million grant to UT Austin sociologist Letícia Marteleto for a five-year, longitudinal study.

“Brazil has not had a longitudinal survey on women’s reproductive health ever. So, I hope to bring knowledge to how people deal with these sorts of health shocks,” Marteleto says.

Prior to receiving the award, Marteleto’s preliminary research found that women’s response to the health crisis varied greatly based on their socioeconomic status. This is due to the fact that avoiding or terminating a pregnancy are the only options to guarantee a child will not be born with microcephaly — options that are more attainable for those of higher socioeconomic status, Marteleto explains.

Other factors influencing women’s responses could include the region they are living — the Northeast’s higher temperatures, stagnant water and sanitation issues pose a greater risk — as well as the information women are receiving — mosquito and pregnancy prevention information is widespread, but other risks, such as sexual transmission of the disease, are not well communicated, Marteleto adds.

“There are multiple layers to peel back: class inequality, gender, and I suspect race also plays a role,” Marteleto says. “There’s a lot more than five years’ worth of research ahead of me.”

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