Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
Zika: it’s about the scariest virus that’s come down the pike for women in their childbearing years. Ever. The scary part? We don’t know a lot about it except that it seems to have caused many cases of microcephaly, a serious brain birth defect, and that it’s quickly spreading around the world.
According to the CDC, here’s what we DO know about Zika:
- Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika. There is a blood test that can detect the Zika virus; the test is recommended for pregnant women who have traveled to areas with outbreaks of Zika.
- The only way to avoid it is to avoid mosquito bites.
- Unlike most mosquitoes, the mosquitoes that carry Zika bite mostly during the DAYTIME.
- The mosquito that carries Zika also carries Dengue and Chikungunya viruses and it’s bite has been also linked to Guillain–Barré syndrome.
- Once a person has had the Zika virus, she is most likely protected from future infections.
- The symptoms of Zika are mild: fever, rash red eyes, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and headache. Symptoms last 2-7 days. The incubation period is 3-7 days.
- Only 1 in 5 people infected with Zika actually get sick. You can have the virus without having symptoms.
- Zika can be spread through semen, to a fetus during pregnancy or during delivery and possibly through blood transfusions.
How to Protect Yourself from Mosquitoes
Around the House:
- Clear and drain any standing water around your home and encourage neighbors to do the same.
- Keep doors and windows without screens (or screens that have holes) closed.
- When outside, wear light colored clothing, long sleeves and long pants.
Pregnant and Worried? Make a Zika Prevention Kit
The CDC recommends you build a Zika Prevention Kit if you live in an area with the mosquito that spreads the Zika virus (or if you travel to one). The mosquitos actually have a wide potential range, though the highest number of mosquitos are in subtropical areas like Texas and Florida.
- Bed Net: Mosquitoes can live indoors and will bite at any time. Consider a bed net to protect you while you sleep if your room (or home) is not well screened. Or if you are camping or traveling to an active Zika area.
- Standing Water Treatment Tablets (Mosquito Discs): It’s best to have no standing water around your home, but if you do, you can use these tabs. (For example, potted plants with saucers that collect water but are too big to move.) When used as directed, they will not harm pets.
- Insect Repellent: Use only an EPA-registered repellent and always follow the directions on the bottle. Apply to clothing and to exposed skin.
- Condoms: It is possible to get Zika from a man who has it (or possible who has had it recently.) The CDC recommends using condoms with any type of sex if there is any chance of Zika transmission.
- Permethrin Spray: Spray outer clothing and gear with this to protect you from bites. Do NOT use permethrin on your skin. (Although the EPA says there is no evidence of developmental effects to the unborn, to be on the safe side, have someone who is not pregnant spray the clothing.) You can purchase clothing that is pre-treated with permethrin. Pre-treated clothing is unlikely to pose any immediate or long-term hazard. Permethrin-treated clothing should be washed separately, as the chemical can come off in the wash and is not recommended to be used on underwear.
Insect Repellent 101:
- Use an EPA registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. Find an insect repellent that is right for you here:
- Consumer Reports magazine tested several brands against Zika carrying mosquitos. The most effective mosquito repellents were Sawyer and Natrapel 8 Hour, which each contain 20% Picardin, and Off! Deepwoods VIII containing 25 percent DEET. Those sprays kept Zika carrying mosquitoes from biting for about 8 hours.(Sawyer was the top overall pick because it kept away mosquitos and deer ticks, which spread Lyme disease.) Ben’s 30% DEET Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula kept Aedes mosquitoes away for 7.5 hours and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, containing 30 percent lemon eucalyptus, worked for 7 hours.
- No products containing IR3535 made the list—this is the active ingredient in Skin So Soft Bug Guard products. Products NOT on the recommended list include repellents containing 7% DEET or less than 20% Picardin. (In this case the dose does make the poison.)
- While repellents come with various concentrations of their active ingredients, 20-30% work well and won’t work any better in higher concentrations.
- I admit, it’s mighty tempting to go for the more “natural” approach when looking for an insect repellent. Don’t. Zika is serious and your bug spray should be too. Consumer Reports advises skipping most products made with natural plant oils like citronella, lemongrass or rosemary oil. They did not last for more than 1 hour against mosquitos and some failed right away. Also, those products are not registered with the EPA.
- You can get the lowdown on the effective ingredients in bug repellents at Environmental Working Group.
- Most insect repellents do melt plastic and may stain clothing. They are also very irritating to the eyes.
How to Use Insect Repellent
When was the last time you gave a thought to how you applied your insect repellent? Here is a refresher.
- Read product labels carefully.
- Apply repellent only to exposed skin or clothing. No need to apply to skin that will be covered.
- Only apply what’s needed—adding more won’t make it work better.
- Don’t apply to cut or irritated skin or right after shaving.
- To apply to face, spray on hands and then smooth over face. Avoid the eyes.
- If you have children, know that some repellents are not recommended for children under 3.
- Insect repellents should never be used on infants under 2 months.
- If you are also applying sunscreen, apply it first, then add mosquito repellent.
- Don’t use near food.
- Wash hands after applying and at the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water.
- Wash treated clothing separately before wearing again.
If you become sick with Zika, continue to protect yourself. Mosquitos that bite an infected person can then carry the virus to others.
Timing of Pregnancy with Zika
Here is what the World Health Organization and the CDC Recommend:
- Talk to your doctor about your plans to become pregnant.
- People living in areas where there are local cases of the Zika virus should practice safe sex or abstain from sexual activity.
- After returning from an area where Zika is prevalent, practice safe sex or abstain from sex for at least 8 weeks after returning.
- If men experience Zika symptoms, they should adopt safer sexual practices or consider abstinence for at least 6 months.
- Do not try to conceive when you are traveling to areas where Zika is active.
- If you have visited an area where Zika is active, and neither you nor your partner have symptoms, wait at least 8 weeks after symptoms start before trying to conceive. If you or your partner does have Zika symptoms, wait at least 6 months after symptoms start before trying to conceive.
Pregnant? Do This:
- Take every precaution possible to avoid mosquito bites, especially during the first trimester. Because you could be pregnant without knowing it, take the same precautions while you are trying to conceive.
- Avoid traveling to areas where there is currently a travel alert. This includes areas in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, The Pacific Islands, South America, and Cape Verde, Africa. If your partner has traveled to an area with Zika, either use condoms or avoid having sex for the duration of your pregnancy.
- Mosquitoes do not live at elevations above 6,500 feet, so traveling to Zika infected countries, but staying at high elevations, will lower your risk.
Zika is moving quickly. The map below shows countries with active transmission of the Zika virus, as of May 26, 2016.
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