health mind and body

Israeli expert separates Zika fact from fiction


Reports continue to surface about the rise of cases of the mosquito-born Zika virus in South America, and the associated birth defect microcephaly, which is characterized by smaller brain size and has been detected in as many as 4,000 babies in Brazil.

Zika was initially found on U.S. soil in the form of several cases of people infected outside of the country, and most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week confirmed that one person has contracted Zika sexually in Texas.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika is not endemic to Israel, and to date only one Zika infection has been detected in the Jewish state, in a child that had been on a trip to Colombia. But after the World Health Organization declared Zika as a world health emergency, the story has gone viral (pun intended) in the Israeli, American, and international media.

Amid the numerous headlines on Zika, what’s fact and what’s fiction? gained some insight from Israeli expert Dr. Hagai Levine, head of the environment and health track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center School of Public Health. Levine is also an adjunct professor in preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, and from 2009 to 2011 headed the epidemiology section of the Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps.

In an interview with, Levine discusses the implications of a newly released study commissioned by the Haifa Municipal Association that showed how Israeli babies born in or near Haifa are being exposed to higher levels of pollution, and are born with below-average weight and head circumference measurements. The study has been criticized by the Israeli Ministry of Health as unnecessarily raising public alarm.

What’s the real story? Levine provides an insider’s perspective.

JNS: Not all those who contract the Zika virus experience symptoms. But for those who do, how can they identify that they have this particular disease? Other than fever, what are the symptoms?

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