It’s summer, and that means more mosquitos, especially around US coastal areas and tropical areas you may be traveling to like Mexico, the Virgin Islands or Costa Rica. And that’s a problem for pregnant women, no matter what trimester they’re in. That’s because the Zika virus, which can cause birth defects in women who become infected while pregnant, hasn’t gone away. We aren’t hearing about Zika as much, but it’s definitely still a health risk for women who are pregnant or trying to be.#Pregnant or #tryingtoconceive? #Zika #needtoknow here: bit.ly/2sXBUtw #healthypregnancy #RDchat Click To Tweet
In, 2016, about 1 in 10 US moms-to-be who were infected with Zika delivered babies with birth defects. All 51 women in the US contracted Zika while traveling to areas outside the US where the virus was more prevalent:
- Cape Verde
- Dominican Republic
- Marshall Islands
What can you do to protect yourself against Zika?
For a complete guide to preventing Zika infections, especially if you have traveled to or are planning to travel to Zika high risk areas, see my previous post here.
Here is current Zika advice in a nutshell:
Avoid mosquito bites. Here’s How:
- Remove standing water, which provides a breeding ground for mosquitos.
- Use screens on windows and doors and repair holes in screens.
- Sleep under a mosquito net if air conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors.
- Use fans in sitting areas to help keep mosquitos away.
- Wear protective clothing that covers most of your exposed skin–that includes long sleeves and socks, especially when walking in heavy brush.
- Wear clothing that has been treated with insect repellent. Permethrin treated clothing will protect you after multiple washes. You can also treat your own clothes with permethrin. (However, in areas where permethrin products have been used extensively, like Puerto Rico, mosquitos have become resistant to it. Find more information at the National Pesticide Information Center
- Use EPA-approved insect repellants. Using lotion, pump or towelette forms are best to prevent inhaling the chemicals in aerosol spray. The least toxic of the ones below, according to Environmental Working Group, is Picaridin. It won’t dissolve plastics like some repellents do and appears to have less neurotoxicity than DEET.
What About Natural Insect Repellents?
I’m glad you asked. I encourage the “better safer than sorry approach” for almost all things regarding pregnancy. And when you think about what an insect repellent is, it makes you think! Obviously a poison that is strong enough to kill bugs, could be toxic enough to also cause harm to humans.
Using insect repellents while pregnant or trying to conceive presents a slippery decisional slope. You must weigh the benefits and risks of using insect repellents around your home and on your body.
At Our Water Our World, you will find a Less Toxic Product List for insects as well as plant invaders. (Repellents with Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, a natural plant oil are on the list.)
The EPA also keeps a list of Minimum Risk Pesticides here. You’ll find well-known ingredients like citronella oil, lemongrass oil and geranium oil. However, these may not be strong enough to repel the mosquitos that carry the most dangerous of diseases–Zika, Dengue fever, and West Nile Virus. (West Nile Virus may also cause birth defects.) A recent Consumer Reports test found that repellents with natural plant oil blends, like lemongrass oil, citronella oil and geraniol, did not last more than an hour against the Aedes mosquito which carries Zika, and some failed immediately.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus repellents such as Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, were rated excellent by Consumer Reports in protecting against mosquitos that carry West Nile and Zika, as well as Deer ticks that can carry Lyme Disease. For those looking for a more “natural” insect repellent, this is it!
Traveling with Zika in Mind
Check out the CDC Zika map here and avoid places that are purple for sure and strongly consider staying away areas in the red too. If a a couple does travel to these places, it’s recommended that you wait 6 months before trying to conceive. Follow the advice below.
Planning a Pregnancy in the Zika Era
If you are planning a pregnancy, the advice from the CDC is more complicated!
You AND your partner should avoid travel to areas with a CDC Zika Travel Notice. Find the list here>
- For women who have been possibly exposed to Zika at a location with the virus, wait at least 8 weeks after the last possible exposure or after symptoms start (if she developed symptoms) before trying to conceive. During this waiting period, use condoms or do not have sex.
- For men who have been possibly exposed to Zika at a location with the virus, wait at least 6 months after the last possible exposure or after symptoms start (if he developed symptoms) before trying to conceive. During this waiting period, use condoms or do not have sex.
Who knew that such a tiny little insect like a mosquito could cause such health havoc? During the critical time of pregnancy and preconception, it’s important to know the facts and protect yourself!