photo: iStock, Marissa Pina, Vivala

Puerto Rico is at a critical moment in our public history for many reasons: the financial crisis and debt, the recent visit of Bernie Sanders, and a totally false perception of how the Zika virus is spreading throughout the island.

In the blink of an eye, news about Zika in Puerto Rico has gone viral and affected many international plans: the cancellation by MLB of the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Miami Marlins series amid fear of contracting the disease and the cancellation of a huge conference at one of the most luxurious hotels in Condado, San Juan. The company canceled all of its reservations at the hotel, which had been made and held since December of 2015, costing the hotel and the local economy millions of dollars with the cancellation for fear of catching the Zika virus.

Primera Hora even reported that the hotter-than-hot comedic actress Amy Schumer refused to shoot a film in Puerto Rico because she was scared about getting infected with Zika, though she took to Twitter to shoot down the claims.

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And just like that, the outside world was convinced that the situation with Zika in Puerto Rico is out of control: They see us like zombies. And it’s just not like that. Let’s take a look at what the situation is REALLY like with Zika on the island.

The last report from the Health Department confirmed 925 cases of Zika, with just 27 people hospitalized. Less than 1 percent of the population has been infected. During the month of April, the first Zika-related death was confirmed, and it was a 70-year-old man whose age group put him at a higher risk. Zika was only one of his health issues he also suffered from hypertension. On the flip side, the first case of microcephaly in a fetus associated with the virus was also reported. Although the fetus never made full term, they asked the woman if they could study her and the baby and the found that she had indeed contracted the virus.

Symptoms of Zika include light fever, hives, and general feelings of illness, conjunctivitis, muscular pain and pain in the extremities. But the virus can also be present without showing any symptoms at all. They have diagnosed at least 18 pregnant women on the island who have been under constant monitoring and medical attention. Pregnant women and those planning on having babies are one of the groups being most closely monitored since the virus can cause congenital defects like microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which attacks the immune and nervous system, causing paralysis in some extreme cases.

These types of reports affect the economy of Puerto Rico drastically in the place where it hurts the most: Tourism. The tourism bureau (in collaboration with the health department) has created a step-by-step guide that tourists and others who visit the island can follow to protect themselves from Zika. Others have helped by developing campaigns to raise awareness and consciousness to change the perception of what’s going on in Puerto Rico and encourage people to come visit the island nation. Even still, no advisories to avoid travel to Puerto Rico due to the virus have been issued by the state department.

With the hashtag #wheresthezikapr, a group of Puerto Ricans have created a social media campaign to fight against the perception and propaganda surrounding the Zika virus that has caused so many to think twice, doubt, and even cancel their travel plans. One of their initiatives is that the locals shoot video about their real-life experiences on the island. Another movement that just began is Zikafree.org, a campaign created by a PR agency with the message that in Puerto Rico life goes on and people are still enjoying the carefree island life. You can create a photo for your profile with a special filter that includes the message “Puerto Rico #zikafree.”

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photo: Kroma
In addition, the Health Department has created a Facebook page: Puerto Rico contra el ZIKA, with up-to-date information about the virus. You can find videos, statistics, and tips and advice on how to protect yourself and how to detect symptoms.

The reality is that lots of Puerto Ricans are super surprised that the outside world sees us like this ground zero for the Zika. The Zika virus has not been anywhere near as widespread as chikunguña, which had a much faster and larger spread. In 2014, there were more than 4,000 reported cases and it’s very likely that if you live here you know someone close to you who has had chikunguña or knew someone else who got sick with the virus.

So for all of you who live outside of our beautiful shores, just know that we’re still living and not much has changed. It’s still the same island paradise, with the same blessings and the same problems. Puerto Ricans are aware of Zika, but we have to take it day to day. There is nothing to be scared of, it’s more important to pay attention and to take precautions . . . just like in all of life. Only those who live here can truly understand what the real-life situation is like. The media can be very sensationalist at times, but thanks to social media, we have a chance to prove some of those alarmists' reports wrong and let the outside world know what it’s really like here on the island. And here in PR, summer has arrived, along with sunny days at the beach and vacation for many.