Health officials in Texas are preparing for a possible outbreak of the Zika virus. It’s mostly spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can also transmit other diseases, such as dengue and chikungunya.
There’s no vaccine to prevent Zika, dengue or chikungunya, and there are no specific medicines to treat them.
Not All Mosquitoes Behave the Same
The best protection is to keep mosquitoes from biting you and your family. Most of us think that all mosquitoes live outdoors and are most active between dusk to dawn. That’s the behavior of the Culex species, which can transmit the West Nile virus. But the Aedes aegypti is different.
The Aedes aegypti is most active during the day. It likes cleaner water and urban areas, and is happy living inside your home. It can be found resting on cloth and hiding in closets. It can breed in water in a vase of flowers or in your pet’s dish.
Its eggs can survive a long time without water. The females lay eggs above the dry line in flood prone regions. When the areas flood, the eggs hatch, and swarms of mosquitoes become active.
Important for Everyone
Women who are pregnant or who can become pregnant should take special precautions against the Zika virus. But even if you aren’t worried about getting the virus yourself, you don’t want to play a part in spreading the virus to community. What happens is this…
An Aedes aegypti mosquito bites a Zika-infected person. About a week later, that mosquito transmits the infection to the next person it bites. Then, an uninfected mosquito bites the infected person and takes in the virus. The more people and mosquitoes that have the virus, the greater the risk that the virus will spread.
5 Ways to Prevent Mosquito Bites
The best protection against mosquito-borne diseases is to avoid mosquito bites.
- Don’t breed them.
The Aedes aegypti can live and breed both indoors and out. The female lays her eggs along the sides of containers, where they stick like glue.
- Dump out indoor vases regularly, and scrub before refilling.
- Dump outdoor containers, such as water cans, buckets and old tires.
- Keep gutters clear of leaves and standing water.
- Don’t over water your lawn so that standing water remains for days.
- Screen water barrels and other water tanks.
- Dump out wading pools and change birdbaths often.
- Keep them out of your house.
- Use air conditioning and keep windows closed.
- If you do open windows and doors, use screens that are without tears.
- If you open a door, close it as soon as possible.
- Use insect repellent.
- Choose a repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eu calyptus (OLE) or para-menthanediol (PMD). Visit epa.gov for a list of brand names that are proven to be safe and effective.
- Know how long the product will work. Some products work for an hour; others work for up to 12 hours.
- Apply any sunscreen before applying the insect repellent.
- Don’t spray repellent on skin under clothing.
- Use repellent carefully with children.
- Travel wisely.
Before travelling, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers Health website (cdc.gov/travel) for health notices. If the area you are visiting has active Zika virus transmission, take these steps:
- Check with your doctor before you go if you are pregnant or may become pregnant.
- Use EPA-approved insect repellent.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants, and use permethrin-treated clothing.
- Use air conditioning, if possible.
- If you must open windows, make sure screens don’t have tears or gaps.
- Use mosquito netting to cover strollers, baby carriers, cribs and beds.
- Stay informed.
Be aware of health risks in your area by visiting texaszika.org. The website cdc.gov is a great resource, as is the CDC YouTube channel. af
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer in Austin.