Zika’s Here. Now What? by Kirby Wetzel, August 18 2016, 0 Comments

There’s no doubt about it: Zika is here and it is really scary. Zika has been in the news for months now. In fact, there was a call to postpone or move the Olympics in Brazil, the country that’s been the seat of much of the outbreak. Zika has certainly been a cause for concern among the Olympic athletes—some even withdrew from the Games due to the threat of Zika. And until two weeks ago there had been no cases contracted in the United States. But that's no longer the case. Zika is actively circulating in a small community just north of downtown Miami—urine and blood tests have confirmed 15 cases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an unprecedented travel warning on August 1st, advising pregnant women and their partners not to travel to the area. 

What to Know

According to the CDC:

  • Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (aegypti and Ae. albopictus). These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters. But they can also bite at night.
  • Zika can also be sexually transmitted.
  • Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects, specifically a birth defect of the brain—called microcephaly—and other severe fetal brain defects.
  • There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.

What to Do

  • Wear pants, long sleeves, socks and shoes when in a particularly buggy area or if you are prone to bites.
  • Use bug repellents.
  • Pay careful attention to the travel notices posed by the CDC.

Additional Precautions

Further precautions recommended by the CDC about the Miami outbreak include:

  • Pregnant women and their male and female partners who live in the area should prevent mosquito bites and use proper sexual protection for the length of the pregnancy, or abstain from sex altogether.
  • Pregnant women who live in or travel to the area should be tested for Zika infection in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, even if they have no symptoms of the virus.
  • Male or female partners of pregnant women who have traveled to this area should use safe sex measures for the rest of the pregnancy.
  • Women and men who have traveled to the affected area should wait eight weeks to conceive after their return, while men with symptoms should wait a full six months.

What to Look For in a Bug Spray

The most effective active ingredients in bug repellent are:

  • DEET (20-30 percent concentration)
  • Picaridin (20 percent concentration)
  • IR 3535 (20 percent concentration)

Less Effective:

  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Not Effective/Do Not Waste Your Money

  • Treated wrist bands

But, wait a second, I’ve heard terrible things about DEET!

Right. Me, too. In fact, we've talked about it here and here. DEET is powerful stuff and, as we’re seeing, really great at killing insects and stopping the spread of insect borne illnesses. It’s also a persistent environmental contaminant that breaks down slowly in our soil and is frequently found in our nation’s water sources, particularly streams. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says DEET is “slightly toxic” to birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates. That gives me pause.

The Takeaway

The decision to use DEET is a personal one. There is no sure, completely safe way to prevent bug bites. All repellents have pros and cons. However, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), scientists have generally found bug repellents to be safe for pregnant women and their unborn children. The risk of Zika infection is far more serious than side effects from repellent chemicals, provided you use products as directed. If you don’t want to use products with DEET, plan accordingly! That might mean using natural repellents containing essential oils and wearing pants, long sleeves, and keeping your feet covered for the next few monthsor even staying indoors!