Mosquitoes and mosquito bites are a fact of life for those who love the outdoors, but with various news outlets reporting stories about the Zika virus, you may find yourself inclined to stay inside. Get the facts about the Zika virus to learn how to protect yourself and your family.
The virus is spread when an infected mosquito bites a person, cross contaminating the victim’s blood with the disease. It can also be passed through sexual contact with an infected person. It’s important to note that not all mosquitoes carry this virus and that there have been very limited reports of infection in the US. Of about 1,800 cases, only 6 have been caused by direct transmission (mosquito bites). All six of these have been limited to one small area in Miami, Florida. The remaining infections were acquired during travel outside of the US. Of US territories, Puerto Rico leads the pack with about 5,000 cases caused by transmission.
In other parts of the world, there have been some reports in places like Fiji and Papua New Guinea, but the bulk of the cases are in Mexico, Cuba, and the South American continent. If you have not been to, or do not have plans to travel to these areas, chances of contracting the virus are currently very low.
Zika virus symptoms are often mild, and can last up to a week. Many people will not even know they have it. Sufferers may experience a fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Some infections also include muscle pain and headaches. If you’ve traveled to an area where there have been known Zika outbreaks, check with your doctor about being tested. Treatments are similar to those for the flu: rest, fluids, and acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain and fever.
The real danger of this virus is to unborn children. Zika has been linked to complications in pregnancy and to birth defects including microcephaly, which affects brain development. A pregnant woman infected with Zika may pass the virus to her baby. The CDC is advising pregnant women to be especially cautious, and to avoid travelling to areas with known Zika outbreaks.
Your best response to the threat of Zika is to take steps to avoid getting bitten. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Check your yard for areas with standing water and eliminate them. These are favorite spots for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Check your tents and other outdoor shelters for holes or tears in screening and make repairs. Use additional mosquito netting when camping. Choose an EPA-registered insect repellent to be sure you are properly protected against a variety of insects.
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