No one likes mosquitoes buzzing them but Americans have even more reason to not want them around this year – the Zika virus.
Until a few years ago, Zika had little impact on the world. But then it began spreading in South American and the Caribbean. Last year it made its appearance in the United States, with most cases in south Florida and Texas.
The mosquito most likely to endanger humans is Aedes aegypti, which feeds primarily on human blood and is active during the daytime. It is most prevalent in the warmer southern climates. However, unless you’re an insect expert, it’s best to avoid all mosquitoes.
Most people infected with Zika won’t realize it, since only about 1 in 5 with the virus shows any symptoms. The symptoms themselves usually aren’t severe and present flulike – fever and aches, redness of eyes and a rash. The symptoms appear within two weeks of the infection and the disease runs its course in a week or less.
That doesn’t sound awful, but Zika can have serious effects on babies in the womb, primarily through stunting brain development. That makes it especially vital for pregnant women to avoid potential infection.
Unlike other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and yellow fever, Zika can be passed to others through sexual fluids, blood, saliva and tears. The CDC recommends that anyone who was potentially exposed to Zika should use protection during sex for up to six months, and women who have been exposed should wait at least eight weeks before trying to conceive.
A vaccine against Zika is probably several years away. As with many diseases, prevention is the best medicine. Here are some recommendations to decrease your risk of exposure to the Zika virus.
Clean up. Mosquitoes breed in standing water. Old tires, children’s swimming pools, open containers or even depressions in the ground can contain the right environment for mosquitoes to thrive. Drain water from those areas as often as possible.
Douse yourself. Wear DEET or other repellents like oil of lemon or eucalyptus to ward off mosquitoes. Click here for the EPA’s list of insect repellents. If you go to an area with mosquitoes, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to decrease skin exposure.
Wear protection. Health care workers should be especially vigilant in wearing protection when dealing with someone who may have been exposed to Zika since it can be transmitted through body fluids. Use protection when engaging in sexual activity if you or your partner have been exposed to Zika.
Avoidance. The southern United States is expected to have the most exposure to the virus. Avoid traveling there if you don’t have to. This is especially true for women of child-bearing age. If you live in one of those areas, or have to travel there, take the above precautions.