With summer in full swing, increasing concerns about the spread of the Zika virus in the United States are raining on our long-awaited parade. The Zika virus infection is a relatively new disease in the western Hemisphere and, to date, there are only a limited number of cases reported in the United States. The hysteria regarding this virus surrounds its potential impact on developing fetuses. After evaluating evidence gathered from many studies over several months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization announced that Zika definitely causes microcephaly (unusually small heads and damaged brains) in infants born to infected mothers. The Zika virus currently poses a significant public health threat to residents of South America countries, most significantly Brazil, and to Puerto Rico, while the impact here in the United States to date is still unclear even with 10 individuals contracting the virus in Miami just last week. One of the most concerning elements is that the virus has been found in bodily fluids including saliva, blood, urine, amniotic fluids and semen, and has been found to spread through sexual contact (and as mentioned above, from a mother to her unborn child) in addition to mosquito bites. Even more concerning, only 20% of infected people are symptomatic, meaning the rest of those infected with Zika don't know they have it and may not be taking precautions to keep it from spreading, which is especially problematic in cities and high traffic areas like airports.
With all of this media attention, physicians overall might be noticing more patients inquiring about how prevent transmission, more specifically how to safely keep mosquitos and their disease-associated bites away. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is stressing that people need to take steps to prevent mosquito bites with such protectants as ample clothing and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. Established repellants include ingredients such as: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, paramenthanediol, oil of eucalyptus. Of these listed, DEET has the longest (over 50 years) proven efficacy against the Aedes mosquito (which is known to spread the virus) and safety data above all others. Between 20% to 50% concentration, it is both effective and safe, even in the setting of pregnancy, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Picardin comes in at a close second.
Another approach is to buy clothing pre-treated with permetherin or DIY with various over the counter products designed for treating clothing. These treatments usually last 6-7 washes, and can be a helpful adjunct to spraying one's skin. Caution however to those with allergies to chrysamthemums, as this insecticide is derived from this common flower.
Remember, mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide emissions in our breath as well as sweat so these exposed areas are likely targets for bites. Protect yourself appropriately in order to enjoy the rest of your fun, bite free summer.