According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Zika is “spreading explosively” in the Americas and as many as four million people could be infected by the end of 2016.
Only about one in five people who are infected with Zika virus will actually develop symptoms for a week or so, primarily fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis or red eyes, muscle pain, and/or a mild headache. But the Zika virus has also 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.
There is no treatment or vaccines for the Zika virus. The most effective way to avoid the disease is also the most obvious: don’t get bit by an infected mosquito.
But avoiding mosquitos is easier said than done. These creatures 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.
Here are the five best ways to make yourself extremely unattractive to mosquitos:
- Choose the right repellent
DEET is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents, and is considered to be the most effective. Some people are wary of DEET, remembering that the product was linked to potential neurological problems several decades ago. While studies on the long-term effects of DEET have not yet been conducted, short-term studies indicate that there are no negative side effects linked with DEET usage. Pregnant women, and anyone concerned about DEET side effects, should speak with a health care professional before using repellents containing DEET.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends repellents that contain these active ingredients: oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD, picaridin, or IR 3535. But the CDC does stress that DEET is the most effective repellent available.
The CDC does not recommend the use of products that are not registered as repellents with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Non-registered repellents include citronella oil, cedar oil, geranium oil, peppermint and peppermint oil, “pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (the essential oil that is not formulated as a repellent, in contrast to OLE), and soybean oil. None of these, according to the CDC, has any proven ability to repel mosquitos.
And while we’re at it, according to the American Mosquito Control Association, electromagnetic bug zappers, bug-protection bracelets, vitamin B patches, dryer sheets, garlic, and marigold plants also don’t deter mosquitos.
- Apply your chosen repellent correctly
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.
Many Americans typically associate early evening hours with mosquito bites. But the Aedes aegypti are very active – and bite most frequently – during daytime hours. Since you’ll likely be wearing sunscreen during this time frame, remember to apply your repellent after you have applied sunscreen and allowed the sunscreen about 15 minutes to dry. Reapply the repellent following the product manufacturer’s instructions.
Keep the repellent away from irritated skin and open wounds (as well as your eyes, open mouth, inner ears, and other tender bits.)
When applying mosquito protection to a young child’s skin, spray the repellent on your hand and then apply it to the child’s skin. Avoid using repellent with a 30 percent or higher concentration of DEET on kids under 18. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children younger than age 3. Don’t use repellent on infants under two months old, instead use mosquito netting. And while these are standard recommendations, it is always much better to discuss mosquito protection with your own physician, who will make recommendations based on your child’s health and the severity of mosquito-borne illness in your location.
3: Strengthen your defenses
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. And, according to the “Fun Facts” provided by the American Mosquito Control Association, during the full moon mosquitos are up to 500% times more active than they are at other times of the month.
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.
You can buy permethrin-treated items, or apply permethrin to your own clothing and gear. Treated items will continue to protect you after multiple washings, but check product information to ensure you are applying the permethrin-correctly and to see how long the permethrin will remain effective. Do not use permethrin products directly on your skin.
4: Don’t make mosquitos comfy
Rather annoyingly, Aedes mosquitos just love to fly into buildings to escape the sun’s rays. And they can then live happily – and reproduce madly – in your home or office. So close doors fast as you go in and out, and check window/door screens carefully for tiny holes that act as mosquito entry points.
To mosquitos, standing water is a breeding ground. They don’t need much liquid to raise huge families – a tablespoon of water can support up to 300 Aedes mosquitos. Wipe your mouth rinsing glass dry, make sure kitchen surfaces are moustuire-free, and drain the saucers under your flower pots, etc.
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.
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.
5: Travel safely
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 telemedicine plan provides 24/7, free access to locally licensed doctors and nurses. Find out more about telemedicine plans on dentalplans.com.