Mosquitoes have killed more humans than all the wars in history combined. That’s a sobering fact that leaves many people involuntarily swatting at their arms and legs. Recent reports of the spreading Zika virus have caused even more concern, especially for pregnant women who appear to be at the greatest risk. If you’re wondering what you can do to limit your risk of contracting this latest mosquito virus, learn the facts behind Zika.
What Are the Risks?
For most healthy people, the Zika virus causes only a brief, flu-like illness. For pregnant women, however, the risks are greater. Zika has been linked to an alarming birth defect called microcephaly, which results in debilitating small brain and head sizes. According to the World Health Organization, the rising prevalence of Zika-related microcephaly is now an international public health emergency. Recent reports that the virus can be transmitted through sexual activity have elevated concern. That said, for most Americans, the threat still appears to be quite low.
What You Can Do
Currently, Zika has yet to reach the continental United States. For people traveling outside the country, however, special precautions may be necessary. The CDC has issued a travel alert with a list of 32 countries or territories where Zika is prevalent. The national public health institute has also issued the following guidelines for people planning to travel abroad:
- Pregnant women should consider delaying travel to areas on the CDC’s travel alert list.
- Women trying to conceive should talk to their doctor before traveling to these areas.
- Men with expecting partners should consider wearing a condom if they’ve recently traveled to any affected areas.
When You Must Travel
If you must travel in affected areas, take precautions to reduce your risk of mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and pants and apply insect repellent containing DEET, IR3535, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol products. You should also keep windows closed and empty all standing water if possible.
When You Get Home
If you are an otherwise healthy traveler who has returned home, there’s no need to visit your doctor unless you develop headache, fever, rash, muscle or joint pain. On the other hand, pregnant women should schedule a checkup upon returning from any area on the CDC’s Zika watch list.