With mosquito season and summer travel now under way, we all need to take precaution to prevent a potential Zika infection.
Over the last several months, the mosquito-borne virus has spread throughout South and Central America, the Caribbean, Pacific, Cape Verde Islands, and Mexico bringing with it a number travel-associated cases being reported throughout Florida.
Those numbers will likely rise throughout the summer months, so now is the time educate you on Zika.
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis — commonly called pink eye — an inflammation of the membrane that lines your eyes. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito — the common form of transmission. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they rarely die after contracting the Zika virus.
Because Zika is believed to be associated with microcephaly — a small head and brain in newborns — and other poor pregnancy outcomes in women infected during early stages of pregnancy, pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant face the greatest risk.
Guillain-Barré Syndrome — weakness of arms and legs, and in some cases weakness of facial muscles, weakness or the limitation of eye movements, weakness of swallowing and breathing muscles etc. — is very likely triggered by Zika in small proportions of infections. That is similar to the trigger caused by and after a variety of other infections.
There also is the risk of sexual transmission. This occurs from male to female, and from male to male during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika. The only way to prevent infection is to avoid being bitten by an infected mosquito or having unprotected sex with a male who has or had the Zika virus infection during the previous six months.
Here are some tips for your personal protection from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to prevent mosquito bites:
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
• Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
• Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. Choosing an EPA-registered repellent ensures that the EPA has evaluated the product for effectiveness.
• When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women. Always follow the product label instructions, reapply insect repellent as directed, do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing; if you are also using sunscreen, apply the sunscreen before applying the insect repellent.
To protect your child from mosquito bites:
• Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.
• Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
• Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs.
• Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
• Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
• Adults should spray insect repellent onto their hands and then apply to a child’s face.
For more information on the Zika virus, visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/zika.
Abdul M. Memon, MD, FACP, FACEP, is Chief Medical Officer for Disaster and Emergency Preparedness for Jackson Health System.