The following article is a paid collaboration with ThermaCELL®, an effective mosquito repellent for the outdoors.
The Zika virus is causing growing alarm among public health officials as the number of infections mount, and the severity of the illnesses tied to it increase. U.S. political leaders are scrambling to provide funding for the eradication of the mosquitoes transmitting the virus here and overseas.
Meanwhile, individuals are advised to do everything they can to avoid mosquito bites.
There were just 346 people infected with Zika in the continental U.S. as of April 13—all of whom contracted the virus outside the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In seven of those cases, the infection was believed to be sexually transmitted.
Only about 20 percent of people who get infected come down with symptoms, such as a rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis, and then only for a few days. But the virus has long been associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nerve disease that can cause paralysis and even death in rare cases.
Thirty-two of the 346 infected U.S. patients were pregnant women, which is particularly worrisome because Zika is believed to be the first mosquito-borne illness to cause microcephaly, the development of abnormally small heads in fetuses.
The virus may be linked to other birth defects, including blindness and premature births. At a press briefing at the White House on April 11, CDC Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said, "Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought."
One of those scarier prospects, with summer coming, is the wider potential range of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, up from 12 states to as many as 30 states.
More than a fourth of the confirmed cases of Zika so far are in Florida. Although no local transmissions has yet occurred there, the mosquito is native to the state. And as a major gateway for visitors entering the U.S., more cases are expected in the Sunshine State. Nearly all of the 350-plus infections in the U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa) were generated there, and thousands more are expected.
The spread of the Zika virus has proven devastating in Brazil, where an estimated 1.5 million people are infected and more than 1,700 babies have been born with microcephaly.
The World Health Organization, which declared Zika a global health emergency back in February, advises people to drain any amount of stagnant water, inside and outside, where mosquitoes can breed.
Because the the Aedes mosquitoes bite throughout the day, clothing that covers the body (long sleeves and pants) or is treated with permethrin should be worn. Insect repellent containing DEET, IR3535, or lemon eucalyptus is recommended. Air conditioning, mosquito netting, screened doors and windows, and spatial repellents to clear decks and patios are also advisable.
Women, especially those who are pregnant, are also advised to practice safe sex or to abstain from sex altogether with those who have recently traveled to Zika-prone areas of the world.