Experts from pest control leader Orkin urge travelers to South and Central America, the Caribbean and other areas affected by Zika virus to get informed and be vigilant to help prevent mosquito bites after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the Zika virus may spread throughout the Western hemisphere.
Zika is a virus that primarily spreads to humans through mosquito bites of some mosquito species in the Aedes genus.
“Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are present in the United States. They are aggressive daytime biters, but will also bite at night,” said Ron Harrison, Ph.D., who has studied the Aedes mosquito and leads Orkin’s collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“What is clear is that mosquitoes, specifically Aedes aegypti and Ae. albopictus mosquitoes, are the primary vectors of Zika virus. Because these mosquitoes are found throughout tropical regions of the world, including regions within the United States where these mosquitoes are common, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects the current outbreak to continue spreading throughout the tropics where Aedes mosquitoes are common,” said Lyle Petersen, Director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.
Harrison adds that, as temperatures increase, so will the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika virus. “Once it gets warmer, we will see these species across parts of the country, but mosquitoes simply can’t survive in the cold temperatures that most of the country is experiencing right now,” Harrison said.
The CDC is urging pregnant women to consider postponing travel to Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. That's because the virus has been linked to an uptick in babies born with a neurological condition called microcephaly.
“The CDC is concerned about more recent reports linking Zika virus infection to cases of microcephaly and poor birth outcomes in Brazil,” Petersen said. The CDC also reports that Zika virus infection does not pose a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.
The specific type of Aedes mosquito that can carry Zika virus is commonly called the yellow fever mosquito.
Zika virus is not the only health threat associated with this type of mosquito. The yellow fever mosquito can also carry chikungunya and dengue viruses. This mosquito is unique in that it is active during the day, not just at dusk and dawn.
Zika Virus Prevention
There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika, chikungunya or dengue viruses. The best protection for those traveling to an affected region is preventing mosquito bites.
“Do not go in areas where mosquitoes are active,” Harrison says. “If you do, make sure you are covered and you apply an EPA-registered repellent.”
To help protect yourself against bites, use these tips:Prevent Your Exposure
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use EPA-registered mosquito repellents containing one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or IR3535.
- Use air-conditioning when possible.
- Close gaps around windows and in walls.
- Repair and use window and door screens to help prevent entry.
- Remove standing water from gutters, buckets and other containers, as mosquitoes can breed in just a few inches of standing water
- Change water weekly in bird baths, fountains, potted plants and any containers that hold standing water
- Keep pool water treated and circulating
Zika Virus Symptoms
In most cases, symptoms associated with Zika are mild, and cases requiring hospitalization are uncommon. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (pink eye), which normally last two to seven days. Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache.
Zika Virus Treatment
Approximately one in five people infected with Zika virus actually becomes ill. Anyone who develops symptoms connected to Zika after visiting a Zika-affected area, should contact their healthcare provider right away.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control site for the latest information on known Zika-affected areas and updated travel alerts.
For more information, visit Orkin’s Zika virus page.