Hooray for long summer weekends! July 4th falls on a Monday this year, which means extra time (especially for those who are taking Friday off too) to enjoy warm weather festivities.
Have fun – but bring your mosquito repellent with you. This year, the first week of July also kicks off peak Zika season, according to a study led by mosquito and disease experts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
Why Zika Now?
Zika was first identified in Uganda in 1947. So why are we just hearing so much about it now?
Until recently Zika was primarily prevalent in more remote areas where there is little tracking of public health issues. The limited efforts to contain and control mosquito-borne viruses where primarily devoted to high profile (and extremely painful) infections such as dengue and chikungunya.
In comparison to a virus like dengue, which is nicknamed “Breakbone fever,” only about one in five people who are infected with Zika virus will actually develop symptoms. These are usually mild; fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis or red eyes, muscle pain, and/or a mild headache. The symptoms clear in about a week.
But the Zika virus has also recently been linked to microcephaly (babies born with abnormally small heads) along with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing autoimmune disease, and other long-term neurological conditions.
The incidence of severe side effects are rare compared to the rate of Zika infections. So it wasn’t until the virus spread to countries where populations had no natural immunity to Zika, and into urban areas where Zika’s more devastating symptoms could be clearly linked to the disease, that Zika’s true health impact became clear.
Zika has been active in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past year, with more than 20 countries now facing pandemics. More than 52 million Americans live in the metropolitan areas where their risk of exposure to Zika is particularly high:
- Dallas-Fort Worth
- Miami-Ft. Lauderdale
- Los Angeles
- Washington, DC
- San Antonio
Managing Mosquitos and Your Health
No mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported in the U.S, so far all of the country’s confirmed cases of the Zika virus were contracted outside of the country. That said, protecting yourself from mosquitos is a very good thing. They are the world’s deadliest animal, accounting for more than 725,000 deaths annually due to malaria and other diseases including dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis.
Your best defense is mosquito repellent. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends repellents that contain DEET, or these active ingredients: oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD, picaridin, or IR 3535. The CDC stresses that DEET is the most effective repellent available. Pregnant women, and anyone concerned about DEET side effects, should speak with a health care professional before using repellents containing DEET.
Make sure to thoroughly apply your repellent on your feet, ankles and lower legs. The Aedes aegypti, the variety of mosquito that that transmits the viruses that cause Zika (along with the dengue and chikungunya viruses) is especially fond of feet.
Aedes aegypti are very active – and bite most frequently – during daytime hours. As noted above, Aedes mosquitos tend to prefer feet and ankles. So shelve the sandals and flip-flops in favor of closed shoes worn with socks. Opt for baggy clothing (tight, light clothes can be easily penetrated by a mosquito proboscis). Darker colored clothing seems to draw more mosquitos than light-colored fabrics.
Mosquitos are especially fond of sweaty people, so take special care if you’re exercising or working outdoors. If you’re working, exercising or just out for the day in an area where there is a lot of mosquito activity – a campground, botanical garden, grassy meadow or perhaps your own backyard – consider wearing permethrin-treated clothing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, permethrin is effective, and is safe even for pregnant women and children. Again, check with your own doctor to be sure.
Additionally, clear your property of standing water, which is a mosquito breeding ground. A mere tablespoon of water can support up to 300 Aedes mosquitos. Wipe your mouth rinsing glass dry, make sure kitchen surfaces are moisture-free, and drain the saucers under your flower pots, etc.
Kids pools should be filled only before use, and dumped ASAP after swim time is over. Swimming pools are fine, as long as they are chlorinated.
Pet drinking water should be kept in an enclosed “self-service” container, or set out only at specific times. If you must provide outdoor birds with fresh water, clean the bird fountain or container twice a day.
Travel and Zika
Visit CDC’s Travelers Health website for information on areas particularly affected by Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses, along with information on mosquito bite prevention strategies for travelers.
If you have a health question, a DP telemedicine plan provides convenient 24/7, free access to locally licensed doctors and nurses. Find out more about telemedicine plans on dentalplans.com.