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In Puerto Rico, One Expectant Mother’s Zika ‘Nightmare’

Slathered in mosquito repellent, wearing a citronella bracelet and protective clip-on fan

Ceciliana Carrion and her husband Daniel Bautista, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, are expecting their first child in October.
Ceciliana Carrion and her husband Daniel Bautista, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, are expecting their first child in October.

In Florida, the first case of a baby born with Zika-related microcephaly — an abnormally small head — was confirmed on Tuesday, bringing the total in the 50 states and the District of Columbia to five.  

On Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats spent the day killing $1.1 billion in funding to fight the mosquito-borne virus. (This over GOP provisions involving the Confederate flag, a ban on any Zika-related funding going to Planned Parenthood, and a proposal that would have weakened environmental restrictions on the use of insecticides.) Now, the Senate won’t even consider Zika funding again until July 7 at the earliest, after the Fourth of July recess.  

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday, however, 32-year-old Ceciliana Carrion, who is expecting her first child in October, spent the day the way she’s spent every day for months now — feeling “very paranoid; it’s like a nightmare.”  

If there had been about 1,800 Zika cases in New York or Illinois instead of on Carrion’s equally American home turf, would Congress really be heading off to picnic without having taken any action beyond blaming the other party? Carrion, after all, doesn’t get a holiday from her worries.   

“Here’s my routine,’’ to avoid the virus that both her mother and her sister have contracted, said Carrion, the accounts director for an ad agency. “I wake up every morning covered literally from head to toe with every sort of cream and oil you can imagine” to repel the mosquitoes, after yet another night of frightening dreams. “It’s pretty awful, and it’s just as bad for my husband.”  

During the week, she’s in an air-conditioned office all day, but any time she ventures outdoors, she wears long sleeves and pants no matter what the temperature, “which is incredibly uncomfortable, but there’s no possibility of wearing a cute little colored dress,” she said.  

Not that fashion is high on her list of concerns, of course; it’s the fear of the serious birth defects associated with Zika that have her so on edge.  

Carrion reeled off a list of four repellents she uses, in addition to wearing a mosquito-repellent bracelet with yellow coils that give off citronella, and a small fan that “creates a [bug-free] bubble around you. I put it on the outside of my purse or clipped on my sandal.’’  

In other words, what should be a happy time is so filled with anxiety, Carrion said, that at one point, “I told my father, ‘Send me to New York until the baby!’” But then, she didn’t want to leave her husband and couldn’t just walk out on her job, so while she waits to deliver, she feels like a little bit of a prisoner on her beautiful home island.  

Not all pregnant women in Puerto Rico see the possibility of contracting Zika as dire, of course.   

Joanne Veve, who is expecting her second child in October, said she hasn’t taken a lot of special precautions since her first trimester, and wonders whether reports of the risks of birth defects have been exaggerated. “I’m not thinking about Zika every time I go out,” said Veve, a 32-year-old human resources consultant and mother of a toddler. “I want to be responsible, but not hysterical, and I don’t even know any pregnant women with Zika. No one in my circle has it.”  

In Tucson, Arizona, Puerto Rico-born Sofia Peirats, who is also expecting her first child, in November, only wishes she could be back home in San Juan. She said most of her pregnant friends there are taking the threat in stride because they have resources and can afford to protect themselves: “We have those electric fly-swatters everywhere, and the AC is always on, and they just put on repellent and that’s it. But if you don’t have AC,’’ she said, the risk is much more serious.  

The 24-year-old Peirats went to grad school at the University of Arizona “because my husband got transferred here,’’ but now that she’s pregnant, her doctors “are not letting me go home and it’s been really hard” since she finished school and now more than ever misses being close to family.  

“I don’t know anyone in Tucson,” she said. “I hate Tucson — there isn’t any water — and my doctor said she doesn’t even want me to go to the island until I’m done having babies. But no, as soon as I have the baby, I’m on the plane.”  

Peirats is not even mildly surprised that Congress hasn’t yet responded, she said. “It’s been like that my whole life; we’re part of the States but not part of the States — second-class citizens.”  

Carrion also finds the congressional response “awful.” And one thing she is not worried about is the EPA regulation against spraying near water sources that Senate Democrats found unacceptable. “I was hoping they would be fumigating the mosquitoes here,” she said. Congressional inaction “is pretty bad,” she said, “but it’s nothing new.”  

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