Summer is here and with it is the risk of a potential pandemic. Since the early 2000’s certain summer illnesses have made the headlines. Most notably, Zika and West Nile Virus have been the culprits. Zika continues to be a threat worldwide. These viruses are spread through mosquito transmission. So, as the heat approaches now is the time to assess whether or not you are at risk.
Zika: The Most Recent Summer Threat
Zika is a flavivirus that comes from the same family as West Nile and Dengue Fever. It is most commonly contracted through mosquito bites, but can also be spread through bodily fluids. When Zika first hit America in 2016 it was called “an extraordinary event” that should be deemed to be a public health emergency by Margaret Chan, the director of the WHO (World Health Organization). The reason that Zika and other viruses from the same family are so prevalent is that there is no vaccine.
Transmission Through Mosquito Bites
There are over 3,000 known types of mosquitoes in the world. All of them feed off of animals, mostly mammals, because they live off of blood. While people say that mosquitoes bite, technically they puncture. It is also only the females that feed off of blood directly. When mosquitoes feed, they suck blood into their body for a kind of digestion. When they do this, they can transmit illness as there is a slight transmittance of fluids between the host and the insect during feeding.
Common illnesses that mosquitoes can transmit include:
- Dengue Fever
- Yellow Fever
- West Nile Virus
Symptoms of Zika and Other Flaviviruses
Flaviviruses present like the common flu. However, it is possible to get infected without any symptoms at all. If you do get bit by a mosquito, be careful to watch for the following symptoms:
- Sudden fever
- Pain behind the eye
- Painful headaches
- Joint pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Concerns about Infection
Those most at risk are children and the elderly. Additionally, pregnant women carry a high risk upon infection with Zika specifically. Aside from potentially becoming sick from the virus, there is also a concern that affects unborn children with Microcephaly. While the outbreak has been under control in America since 2017, worldwide, the threat still looms. The WHO reports ongoing cases abroad, with the Jaipur outbreak being the most recent notable outbreak.
Symptoms and Concerns of Microcephaly
Microcephaly is a birth defect of the nervous system. Babies with the condition are born with premature skull sizes as compared to the rest of their body. This can mean serious symptoms and is associated with seizures, slow motor development.
Microcephaly – Is Your Child at Risk?
Scientists are scrambling to figure out the direct link between Zika and microcephaly. It is known that there is a link, but they are unsure of exactly how far along a mother must be for the virus to have lasting effects on the baby, or why some children are being born with microcephaly and others are not. There seems to be a clear correlation between contracting Zika in early pregnancy. In 2017, the Salvadorean government warned citizens to avoid pregnancy for 3 years. Zika has been linked with over 50 birth defects due to the mother contracting the virus while pregnant. The only thing to prevent this is to prevent infection in the first place.
Facts about Mosquitoes
Since there is no known vaccination against Zika or other flaviviruses, the only thing to prevent infection is prevention. Ultimately, this means avoiding mosquitoes. There are a number of ways to do this. First, it is vital to understand the lifespan and cycles of mosquitoes.
Things to know about mosquitoes in order to prevent bites and potential infection include:
- Mosquitoes are most active in the summer and nest around still water, including lakes, streams, and ponds.
- Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide (C02) and lactic acid, both of which are present in sweat.
Preparation Is Essential
The easiest way to avoid mosquito bites, and in turn, potential infection, is to not get bit. Every year mosquitoes invade certain areas in droves. The natural flight pattern of these insects means that over time, new mosquito types will enter into an area that they previously did not live in before. Understanding patterns and taking steps to remove potential mosquito threats from your local area are the easiest ways to avoid an infestation. In turn, this is the simplest way to prevent infection in your area.
Know Where the Threat Is
To stay knowledgable about what mosquitoes are doing in your area it is smart to pay attention to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) maps. Thankfully, in 2019 there haven’t been any local outbreaks but if and when there are, the map will be updated.
States at Risk
Because weather patterns often dictate the travel of mosquitoes, there are some areas that are more prone than others for mosquitoes. Certain states are notoriously known for mosquito-borne threats including:
- North Carolina
Keep in mind that new species of mosquitoes often take on new patterns and the risk areas can change. Additionally, every state in the United States does have some mosquito season. This means that even if you live in a state that does not carry the higher risk, you could still potentially be at risk.
Keep Your Neighborhood Safe
Now is the time to begin to prepare your home for a potential Zika outbreak. If there is a new flavivirus introduced this year by a new species of mosquito, you will be ahead of potential threats by keeping mosquitoes at bay as well.
Simple ways to help reduce the risk of mosquitoes in your area include:
- Remove any still water from your property including gutters
- Repair leaky faucets and hose lines
- Cover ponds or pools with netting when not in use
- Place citronella candles or lanterns around your home
- Cover windows and doors with screens
- Mow the lawn regularly
By taking these steps you remove the threat of mosquitoes frequenting or breeding near to your home.
Other Ways to Fend Off Mosquitoes
The CDC recommends two main products, one being DEET a chemical composition which is also known to cause skin irritation and cannot be used on young children. The other, Corymbia Citriodora, a natural and chemical free solution.
Be Smart. Stay Safe.
Zika is only the latest of flaviviruses to his America. Once outbreaks establish themselves within mosquito populations, they can come back, even after years of no infection. In order to keep yourself safe, stay vigilant. Through preparation and prevention, you can avoid nasty infections from mosquito-borne illnesses. In doing so, you can still have fun and enjoy the summer.