The Zika virus was first identified in the Zika forest of Uganda during the mid-1900s and has slowly made its way around the globe. Texas’ proximity to Mexico and other Latin American countries where Zika is common makes it one of the highest risk areas for Zika in the United States.
There are two ways to become infected with the Zika virus. First, a person can get Zika from the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes spread the virus when they bite a person who is currently infected. At this time, there are no cases in Texas where the virus has been transmitted by human-mosquito-human interaction. However, Florida has reported four cases recently.
The second way the Zika virus can be transmitted is sexually, from an infected person to their partner. There have been just under 50 recorded cases of Zika in Texas; however, all but one of these cases are people that contracted the virus while traveling out of the country.
The good news is only about one in five people infected with Zika will feel ill. Typically, mild symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain and red itchy eyes last between two to seven days of being bit by an infected mosquito. Some individuals may develop more severe symptoms like muscle pain and headache. Researchers are studying the link between Zika and Guillian-Barre’ Syndrome. Researchers have been studying the virus for over 50 years in countries where the virus is widespread. They think Zika is behind the rise in the number of children born with microcephaly, as well as an increase in miscarriages, still births and death shortly after birth in women who have Zika. This is why pregnant women should consider postponing travel to any area with Zika. In addition, if their partner travels to Zika-infected countries, they should use condoms or refrain from sex for the rest of the pregnancy.
Because the Zika virus will be brought into Texas through humans, it is important to manage our actions as travelers and our interactions with travelers. Travelers should use insect repellent, cover exposed skin when possible and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms in order to avoid being bitten while traveling to countries where Zika is prevalent.
To find out if your travel destination has Zika, check the Center for Disease Control Travelers’ Health site for current travel notices: cdc.gov/travel. When travelers return from their trip, they should use insect repellent for three weeks after travel and call their doctor if Zika symptoms occur.
Of the 85 species of mosquitos found in Texas only two are known to transmit the Zika virus — Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti. Both species are daytime biters, breed in containers and travel short distances. These characteristics make it very important that we practice the 4 Ds of mosquito defense at home.
• Drain standing water around your home at least once a week. This includes trash cans, non-circulating pools, toys, bird baths, buckets, tires, flower pots, yards and ditches. Remember the Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti mosquitos both look for artificial containers with standing water to breed. Any container capable of holding water for eight to 10 days can produce dozens or hundreds of mosquitos a day. Since these two species of mosquitos do not travel more than a few hundred yards, it very important to avoid creating breeding habitats in our own yards, as well as our neighborhoods.
• Dawn and dusk are prime times for most mosquito activity; however, the Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti mosquitos are also daytime biters, so be sure to practice the next two Ds at all times of day to reduce the chance of contracting the Zika virus.
• Dress to avoid being bitten. Anyone remaining outdoors for extended periods of time in mosquito-infested areas should wear long sleeves, long pants and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to prevent mosquitos from biting.
• Defend with repellents. Use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients — DEET, Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023), Bayrepel, icaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol and IR3535. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
The use of products that combine a sunscreen with an insect repellent is not recommended.
As long as it is hot outside, controlling mosquitoes and protecting yourself from infection are the two key factors in the rigorous defense against Zika.