The Zika virus is a virus being spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti strain. This virus is spreading rapidly through South American countries like Brazil and through the state of Florida. There are recorded cases of Zika in people across the nation who have traveled to countries infected with the virus. However, the only state in which people have been infected locally is Florida, so far.
In addition, a Texas Department of State Health Services news release revealed that an El Paso resident who recently traveled to Miami, where the virus is being spread locally, has tested positively for Zika. This is the first case to be linked to travel within the continental United States. That case is being monitored closely to ensure Zika does not spread beyond the El Paso resident, but I, and local health officials, believe it is important for East Texans to be prepared in case Zika comes knocking on our door.
To get the most relevant and important information about Zika for East Texans, I met with Public Health Preparedness Program Planner Kristina Childress. I came with my own questions for her, but she, much like her job description, was prepared for even more than I had to ask.
“We don’t want to spread fear,” Childress told me. “People just need to know what to do to protect themselves and their families.”
Here is the information Childress provided me.
How does Zika spread?
She explained that Zika spreads through bites from the Aedes strain of mosquitoes, from a pregnant woman to her fetus, from sex with an infected individual, and through a blood transfusion, organ and tissue transplant, fertility treatment, and breastfeeding. The Aedes mosquito is more vicious than other strains of mosquitoes because it is not full from one blood meal. Instead, it likes to hop from one person to the next and so on.
Who does Zika affect the most?
Childress expressed the dangers of a pregnant woman infecting her fetus. The Zika virus causes infants to be born with microcephaly, a condition in which the infant’s head and brain are smaller than normal. Symptoms of microcephaly vary and include intellectual disability and speech delay. It is highly important that pregnant women work to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes and contracting Zika. Eligible Texas women on Medicaid can go straight to their pharmacist to pick up mosquito repellent. Texas is the first state in the nation to implement such an order to slow the spread of the Zika virus.
People who have traveled to a Zika infected country are also likely to catch the virus, Childress said. Those who have traveled to another country need to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes in Texas at all costs, so our mosquitoes do not become Zika carriers.
What are the best ways to prevent the spread of mosquitoes and Zika?
To do what we can now, Childress recommends that individuals do their part in repelling mosquitoes alongside community leaders. She explained how each zone in each city are currently deciding how best to combat mosquitoes in each area. The prevention office met with fire departments, police departments, city leaders, and more people from several cities last week to discuss their methods. Here are some suggestions and resources for repelling mosquitoes.
- Wear EPA approved insect repellent. When you know you will have to be outside for a decent amount of time, wear EPA approved insect repellent such as DEET and Picaridin.
- Keep mosquitoes outside of your home. The Aedes strain of mosquitoes love to live right near humans and their homes. Prevent them from entering your home by using screens and mosquito nets.
- Cover up when outdoors. Wear long sleeves and long pants when you know you will be outside for a long period of time.
- Eliminate standing water on your property. This is an important step. Take a walk around your yard and make sure you get rid of old tires, turn over buckets full of old water, and wash out old barrels. If you have standing water you can’t get rid of, buy mosquito dunks from a store. They are safe around pets and effective against mosquitoes.
- Stay indoors at dusk and dawn. Aedes mosquitoes are known to be aggressive daytime biters. Their most active times are around dusk and dawn.
- Do your homework before traveling. If you know you will be traveling to a Zika infected area, make sure to study up on ways to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes both in the foreign country and back home. The side effects of Zika are not quickly recognizable, and you could be infected without realizing it. Stay aware, and avoid mosquitoes. Also, avoid traveling to Zika infected areas if you are pregnant.
What are the side effects of Zika?
The side effects of Zika are not easily recognizable, Childress warned. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle soreness, and headaches. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika itself, but you can treat the symptoms with rest, drinking fluids, taking acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain, and avoiding aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Fortunately, once a person has had the Zika virus, they are not likely to ever get the virus again. The chances are slim to none. Also, having the Zika virus will not affect future pregnancies.
Where can I get more information on Zika?
Center for Diseas Control and Prevention: This website will keep you up to date on Zika cases around the U.S.
World Health Organization Media Centre: This webpage includes a fact sheet about Zika. It will have other information that was not in this article.
World Health Organization Emergencies: This webpage will give you a history of Zika.
Texas Department of State Health Services: Keep up to date on Zika in Texas at this website.
The key to controlling Zika right now is for each of us to take steps to individually repel mosquitoes. Stay vigilant. Keep up to date on the latest information. Continue to keep your home and body mosquito free.