What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

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By Joe Conlon
Technical Advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association

The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency. It has already affected 24 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. WHO predicts the mosquito-borne virus will likely end up in every country in the Americas.

So how worried should you be? With no vaccine and treatments unreliable, health experts say we should all take precautions to lower risks — particularly women of child-bearing age and those who travel to regions of the world where the virus poses a grave threat.

“If you travel to a country where Zika is present, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking mosquito protection measures such as using an [Environmental Protection Agency]-approved repellent over sunscreen, wearing long-sleeved shirts thick enough to block a mosquito bite, and sleeping in an air conditioned room.”

The virus, which is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda and lived mostly in monkeys. But this year cases in humans have increased dramatically with an alarming connection noted between infected pregnant women and microcephaly — a severe neurological disorder that causes their babies to be born with abnormally small heads. This causes developmental issues and sometimes death.

Women in affected countries, most prominently Brazil, have been advised not to become pregnant until the epidemic is under control.

Joe Conlon, technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), a retired U.S. Navy entomologist and renowned expert in mosquito control, predicts the Zika epidemic will likely reach the U.S. His expertise has been recognized worldwide and he’s made two appearances before the U.S. Congress providing testimony on the West Nile Virus.

“There are definite concerns about Zika reaching the United States and we anticipate more outbreaks mainly from travelers returning from at-risk areas,” he says “The symptoms of Zika are similar to dengue and chikungunya, diseases spread by the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika.”

They include: fever, joint pain, rash, conjunctivitis or red eyes. Symptoms are usually mild and last from several days to a week but can be severe requiring hospitalization.

Since there are no vaccines, treatment includes:

•    Getting plenty of rest.

•    Drinking fluids to prevent dehydration.

•    Taking medicine such as acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain.

Experts say you should not take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen and naproxen to reduce the risk of hemorrhage.

Conlon says that Aedes mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters and typically lay their eggs in and near standing water like buckets, bowls and animal dishes. The virus is spread when an infected mosquito bites a human.

“So far we know that transmission can also occur between mother and child either during pregnancy or at the time of delivery,” says Conlon. “To date there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding. We have reports of the virus being spread through blood transfusion and sexual contact.”

Conlon recommends wearing permethrin treated clothing such as Insect Shield, which provides protection from mosquito bites that lasts through 70 washings. In response to the Zika virus, Insect Shield has a developed a program for travelers planning trips to Zika-risk areas to get their own clothing treated. And as recommended before, always use topical repellent on exposed skin.