With Zika in Florida, How Do You Protect Yourself?

Mosquitos are the primary carriers of the Zika virus, which has reached the U.S. this year.
Mosquitos are the primary carriers of the Zika virus, which has reached the U.S. this year. John Tann
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The following article is a paid collaboration with ThermaCELL®, an effective mosquito repellent for the outdoors.

Spring break came and went in Florida amidst an increasing number of confirmed Zika virus cases. News of the mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus arriving in the Sunshine State may not have adversely affected tourism, but the buggy season ahead could contribute to its spread.

As of April 1, a total of 79 people in Florida were determined to be infected with the Zika virus, accounting for more of the 312 known U.S. cases than any other state. Fortunately, there have not yet been reports of a local outbreak. None of those known to have contracted the virus did so in Florida, according to state health officials. The virus was brought stateside by travelers from Central and South America and the Carribbean, where the virus is widespread.

However, a “perfect storm” could be brewing to produce locally transmitted cases, and soon, health officials fear. Summer rains bring mosquitoes, and the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the Zika virus (as well as the dengue fever and chikungunya viruses) already reside in Florida.

Mosquito Control

Florida's wetlands are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos.
Florida's wetlands are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos.

These mosquitoes are hardy—able to survive in cold and dry conditions, too. Although Aedes mosquitoes tend not to travel more than a few hundred feet from where they were born, they can be transported in receptacles containing water, and they tend to bite throughout the day, not just at dusk and dawn like other mosquitoes.

That’s why it’s important to drain sources of standing water (including flower pots) and to properly maintain swimming pools, wear long sleeves and pants, and apply insect repellents. Indoor air conditioning, window screens and outdoor spatial insect repellent systems—to clear decks and backyards of mosquitoes—are all protective measures to take, experts agree.

The Zika virus causes little more than short-lived and relatively mild symptoms for the majority of people who get infected, such as rashes, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. But a connection between the virus and microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads and underdeveloped brains, has been confirmed by the World Health Organization. The virus is also suspected to trigger, in a small number of cases, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare neurological disease that can be fatal.

A handful of pregnant women are among the infected in Florida, according to the state health department. There is no cure or effective vaccine for the Zika virus.

Travelers to Central America Advised to Be Careful

Those who spent any time in Central or South America should be careful when returning to the United States.
Those who spent any time in Central or South America should be careful when returning to the United States.

Sexual transmission of the virus is also possible, prompting the CDC to advocate that men who have traveled in areas with Zika to abstain from sex or practice safe sex for at least eight weeks. Women, especially those who are pregnant, should also take precautions and not have unprotected sex with men recently in those areas.

Although Zika was first discovered in the African nation of Uganda in 1947, it wasn’t until mid-2013 that it spread from the Polynesian Islands to Brazil (where an estimated 1.5 million people are now believed infected) and then went global. With Florida serving as the gateway to the United States for travelers from Latin America, it is not surprising that that the state has also seen the most Zika cases.

In early February, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in the 15 counties with confirmed Zika cases. The Florida Department of Health set up a Zika Virus Information Hotline (1-855-622-6735) and started updating its caseload count daily in an effort to keep Florida residents informed and safe.

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