The recent aggressive spreading of Zika Virus in Brazil and other select regions has been a top news story in past weeks, understandably so since it can have major health effects. The virus carries Zika fever, a disease that can cause such symptoms as fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis and is suspected of being linked to severe birth defects. Notably, people can be infected even if they’re not displaying symptoms, further heightening the concern over the virus’ potential effect on unborn babies if their mothers become infected. Zika virus is transmitted to humans through a bite of a virus-carrying Aedes mosquito.
The Aedes mosquito is found on several continents, including North and South America. This particular species of mosquito has been linked to deadly outbreaks before. In the early 20th century scientists traced its connection to yellow fever outbreaks, however this connection now carries less importance with the creation of the yellow fever vaccine. The Aedes mosquito is now causing concern as a transmitter of Zika virus.
Recent Outbreaks & What it Means to the United States
Last year Brazil experienced a major increase of the Zika virus, with more than one million cases reported, according to NPR. While the symptoms of the virus can be quite mild, there are suspected links between the virus and about 4,000 cases of severe brain damage to babies as a result of their mothers contracting the virus during pregnancy.
It’s important to note that despite this rising outbreak in South America the only recently reported cases of Zika virus in the United States have been in people who have recently traveled to infected regions and contracted the virus while abroad. Zika virus is not contagious. Still, many people in Arizona, where the Aedes mosquito is found, and throughout the U.S. are concerned about this new threat. Aedes mosquitoes are “city-dwelling” mosquitoes and are very common.
Since virus-carrying mosquitoes could travel here from Latin America as a result of people and goods transportation, there is growing concern that the virus could spread to the U.S. – especially with the upcoming Olympics hosted in Brazil. While it’s important not to panic (especially since the virus hasn’t been found in any US mosquitoes to-date), it’s appropriate to monitor the situation and be cautious in areas prevalent with mosquitoes.
How to Prevent the Zika Virus
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five people infected with Zika will become sick. Because there is no vaccine for Zika yet, those traveling to South America or who live in areas where mosquitoes are a yearly nascence, pregnant women in particular, can follow a few simple suggestions to be more mindful about preventing the transmittance of this, and any mosquito-borne, disease:
- Keep your body covered while outside, especially in the evening and at night, by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants. Even light weight clothing will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.
- If you have a baby or child, keep them covered in long clothing, as well.
Furthermore, treat all clothing items with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing items. Permethrin is an insecticide specifically formulated to protect against disease-carrying insects.
- Use EPA-registered DEET mosquito repellent. Be sure to follow the directions for usage of the repellant, including frequency and application guidelines.
- Be vigilant about standing water – do your best to rid your property of any standing water (like around a dripping hose) so that mosquitoes do not flourish there.
- Before the warm weather hits check all the window screens to make sure there are no tears or gaps where bugs could enter your home.
- If you have a sliding glass door, consider installing permanent or temporary screens for added insect protection.
- When possible, stay protected in air conditioned or screened-in areas to avoid mosquitoes altogether.