Not only is Brazilian AIDS and infectious disease specialist Mauro Schecter, MD, PhD, an expert in Zika, he was also a patient. In the opening session of IDWeek 2016, he described what that was like.
Mauro Schecter, MD, PhD, head of the AIDS Research Laboratory at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is well known in infectious disease circles for research he has done on HIV treatment and prevention.
At IDWeek 2016 in New Orleans, LA, October 26, Schecter — a featured speaker at the opening plenary session of the meeting – discussed his work with a new viral threat: Zika.
And in a twist that makes him more than an academic when it comes to that illness, Schecter (photo) disclosed that he had been infected with the virus himself.
“I don’t like this virus,” he said. “So I’m biased against Zika.”
The symptoms include pruritis, but not like anything he had ever experienced, Schecter said.
“It’s like pins sticking you from the inside out, plus it itches,” he said. “It shows the virus is doing neurological damage, it is very, very different, a very bad itch” and painful.
The malaise that accompanied his illness was completely debilitating the first week and lasted two weeks more, he said.
Uveitis is a frequent symptom of Zika, and neurologic impairment in the extremities.
“I have right foot neuropathy and also in my hands,” he said. The disease is often described as mild, and some people don’t even know they have it, but that was not the case for Schecter.
Moving back into academic mode, Schecter said there is no doubt in his mind or in his colleagues’ that the disease causes microcephaly in infants exposed during the first trimester of their mothers’ pregnancies.
“Even if kids look normal, we are seeing deafness and mental retardation,” he said. The link of these conditions to Zika, “Is not only real but far more common than reported.”
The epidemic “has been a disaster in Brazil,” he said.
His belief is that the virus was imported from Polynesia by competitive rowers who came to Brazil a few years ago to take part in preparations for the Olympics held this summer.
And speaking of the Olympics, he said, it made no sense to create Zika fears in people coming to attend because there are no mosquitoes in Brazil in August. Meanwhile, he noted, Zika was raging in Puerto Rico, "and everyone was ignoring Puerto Rico."
There were no known cases of Zika in Rio in August, he said. "The lesson is not to follow media hysteria," he added.
Like many specialists who have discussed Zika at the IDWeek 2016 meeting, Schecter said he is confident that with several vaccine candidates in trials, there should be a vaccine within a few years.