Local health experts offer Zika prevention advice

Photo courtesy of UC Mosquito Research Program. Mosquitoes feed on human hosts and can drink their body weight in blood.

Why should I care about Zika if I’m not planning on getting pregnant or I’m not pregnant? Although summer has come to an end and travel has slowed down, 40 million people or more travel to Zika-affected countries every year. It is only a matter of time before local transmission of the virus occurs, say infectious experts. It’s most likely to happen when an infected traveler returns to the U.S. and is bitten by a local mosquito that’s capable of spreading the disease. It’s essentially every person’s responsibility, then, to make it harder for mosquitoes to spread the virus. We want people to get rid of the mosquito-breeding sites on their property to protect pregnant women as well as themselves.

Zika is a virus that spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected, specific type of mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus). These mosquitoes have been detected in several California counties but to date, not in San Benito County. The mosquito becomes infected when it bites a person who has Zika virus in their blood. That mosquito can then spread the virus by biting more people. Zika can also spread: during sex with a person who has Zika (by both males and females), from a pregnant woman to her fetus and through blood transfusion. At this time, there have been no confirmed cases of Zika reported to our San Benito County Public Health Services.

As of Sept. 9, California has reported 260 cases of travel-associated Zika. These are people who were exposed to Zika through travel to an affected area or through sexual transmission from a traveler. Two of these cases were due to sexual transmission. California has also reported two infants born with birth defects associated with Zika virus infection. No cases were due to local mosquito transmission in California.

Many people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain, or headache. Symptoms usually begin a few days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito or having unprotected sex with an infected partner. Symptoms can last several days to a week. However, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a very serious birth defect called microcephaly and other severe brain defects as well. Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby’s head is much smaller than expected and the brain does not develop properly. This often results in severe and life-long health problems. Zika appears to cause other brain and immune problems, including Guillain-Barre syndrome or (GBS), a disorder in which the immune system attacks nerves, leading to weakness, temporary paralysis or worse. It’s a small percentage of those who might contract this, but it’s still a risk and (GBS) reports have increased during the current outbreak.

The upmost concern of San Benito County public health officials is transmission of Zika virus to pregnant women through travel or sex (with an infected person) who can then pass it to their babies. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and San Benito County Public Health Department strongly recommend that pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant protect themselves against Zika virus infection by: avoiding travel to areas with active Zika transmission, preventing mosquito bites, using condoms or abstaining from sex during course of pregnancy. If a woman or partner has Zika or is at risk of Zika (for example must travel to Zika area), talking with a healthcare provider about precautions to take and testing if you think you have been exposed to or are at high risk of exposure. Both men and women have something to grapple with and can take the following precautions to prevent the spread of Zika.

What can we do to protect ourselves from Zika?

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine at this time to prevent Zika. Scientists are in the early stages of developing a Zika vaccine and it will likely be another couple of years or more before an effective vaccine is available. In the meantime, the best way to prevent Zika infection is by protecting yourself and your family from mosquito bites and avoiding sexual transmission:

1. Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you are in areas with mosquitoes.

2. Keep mosquitoes outside by making sure window and door screens are in place.

3. Use insect repellant containing DEET (20%-30% concentration is best, according to CDC), picaridin, oil-of-lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or IR3535. Follow the product label instructions; when used as directed, these repellants are proven safe even for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Do not use on babies younger than 2 months old. Do not use oil-of -lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.

4. Take steps to control mosquitoes outside of your home. Zika mosquitoes lay eggs in or near water, even in very small amounts of water. You should make sure your windows have screens and the air conditioning is on during the day; the mosquitoes that spread Zika are day biters. Mosquitoes hate the cold. Be sure to remove all standing water around your home and clean the vessels out, including: toys, buckets, planters, flowerpot saucers, vases, pools, birdbaths, trash containers. Because even after the water sources have dried out , the eggs remain dormant and survive for months, sometimes even up to a year, on the inside of a container. Consider using an outdoor insect spray or larvicide if you need to for mosquito control. San Benito County Vector Control does have mosquito monitoring programs in place.

5. Plan carefully for travel to areas with active Zika mosquitoes. Outbreaks are occurring in many different countries and territories. Check the updated travel notices on the CDC website at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-information

6. Protect yourself during sex to prevent sexual transmission of Zika virus by using condoms the right way every time or abstaining from sex if you or your partner have Zika or are at high risk of exposure to Zika. Zika can be sexually transmitted even if the infected person is not showing symptoms at the time.

San Benito County Public Health continues to closely monitor the situation, inform and be prepared in order to protect the health and well-being of our community. For questions, please call us at (831) 637-5367 or San Benito County Agricultural Commission Vector Control: (831) 637-5344.

Also, the following resources provide excellent information about Zika virus:

https://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/index.html

http://www.cdph.ca.gov/HealthInfo/discond/Pages/Zika.aspx

The San Benito County Public Health Department submitted this piece.

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