Keep Your Zika Facts Straight to Stay Safe
Mosquitoes are getting extra attention this summer due to heightened awareness of the Zika virus, which the World Health Organization recently declared a global public health emergency.
Only time will tell the global reach of the disease, but with so much information out there, it’s important to get your facts straight.
Here’s what you need to know about the Zika virus.
Not All Mosquitos Carry Zika
Rest assured, not every pesky bug carries the virus. In the United States, the mosquitoes of greatest concern - Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus – are found more commonly along the southern Atlantic coast, including Florida, Louisiana and Alabama.
The first known cases of local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission in the continental United States were reported in Florida in July 2016 and as of August 1, 2016 a total of 14 cases of local mosquito-borne transmission in Florida have been identified. The cases have been isolated to the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami, FL. However, all previous cases of Zika reported in the United States were contracted when people traveled to other parts of the world where the mosquitoes carry the disease.
Insect Repellant is Still Important
The types of mosquitoes that most likely carry Zika can’t survive Midwestern winters, but it is still important to protect yourself. Apply insect repellent with at least 20 percent DEET every few hours, and remove stagnant water around your home that may attract the nasty critters. If you have an infant or young children, use mosquito netting over cribs and strollers.
Keep in mind that insect repellent with DEET concentrations higher than 30 percent are not necessarily more effective, and the chemical that is absorbed through the skin can be toxic. Apply it to exposed skin, clothing, socks and shoes, but not on the face, hands or irritated skin (including open sores or cuts). The general rule is to apply repellent with DEET no more than once a day.
You Can Transmit Zika Through Sex
Zika can be transmitted sexually from men to women. Based on known cases, the CDC believes the virus can be spread before, after or while the man is showing symptoms. The virus is present in semen longer than blood, meaning men may be infectious for longer than the standard week. The first known case of female-to-male sexual transmission was announced in July.
If you’re expecting, or trying to get pregnant in the very near future, avoid travelling and take preventive measures, including avoiding unprotected sex.
Unborn Babies Are Most At-Risk
“Pregnant women, and those wanting to get pregnant soon, should seriously reconsider travelling, because of Zika’s connection to birth defects. We don’t have exact answers about how frequently Zika may affect an unborn child or the stage of pregnancy which Zika infection may lead to birth defects,” says Michael Angarone, DO, Northwestern Medicine Department of Infectious Disease.
Zika is linked to a severe neurological birth disorder called microcephaly, which causes unusually small heads and brain damage in children born to mothers with Zika.
Symptoms Take Time to Appear
As with any other virus, it may take up to a week before the symptoms appear. Symptoms may include fever, body aches, fatigue, headache, joint pains, rash across the neck and chest, eye pain and conjunctivitis.
About one in five people infected with Zika will become ill. Zika is usually mild with recovery taking about 10 days. There is no therapy, but use acetaminophen to reduce the fever, stay hydrated with plenty of liquids and stay home and rest, advises Dr. Angarone.
Zika is also linked to temporary paralysis in adults, known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Avoid Traveling to High-Risk Regions
Geographically, the areas with the highest level of concern are Central and South America, Latin America and the Caribbean Islands, including Puerto Rico.
If you must travel to one of these areas, protect yourself by staying indoors in air conditioning and at places with screens and windows. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and follow the same preventive measures you would use at home.
If you are pregnant and your husband or partner must travel, abstain from sex for the duration of your pregnancy. For those trying to get pregnant soon, use a condom for at least six months and get tested as soon as possible.
“The key is to be a safe traveller. Be aware of the Zika risks in the area where you will be travelling, consult travel advisories and protect yourself,” explains Angarone.