By now, you’ve heard of the Zika Virus. It is not known yet how it will impact the United States, you need to understand the risks and how to keep you and your loved ones safe. The Zika Virus has been around since 1947, when discovered in the Zika Forest of Uganda. Since then, it was limited to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands but the virus has now spread to Central America and Puerto Rico. The Zika Virus goes almost unnoticed. Many people may be infected, but only about 20% show symptoms which can be mild (headache, fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis). Identifying the Virus is difficult since the symptoms are similar to a mild flu or other common illnesses. Even people showing symptoms don’t think they need to go to a hospital.

It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women because the Virus can spread to the fetus, possibly causing birth defects such as microcephaly causing the child to be born with a smaller head than expected, which can cause seizures, developmental delay, feeding problems and hearing loss, etc. In Brazil, there has been an increase in the number of cases of microcephaly. The CDC is also looking into the possibility that Zika may be linked to Guillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS) because of a similar rise in cases of GBS in patients who have also contracted the Zika Virus. The jury is still out on the exact impact of Zika Virus on human health, but it is obvious that the impact could turn out to be severe.

Zika Virus is spread mainly by the Aedes Aegypti and Aedes Albopictus Mosquitos. Aedes Aegypti (the Yellow Fever Mosquito) is the main culprit in the spread of the Virus. These Mosquitoes are usually found in tropical and subtropical climates where they feed year round and at any time of day. Like most Mosquitoes, they mainly feed outside at dusk and dawn, but they will feed during the day indoors, in shady areas and when it’s cloudy outside. In the Northeast, we don’t typically have to worry about Aedes Aegypti due the fact that they don’t survive well outside of tropical and subtropical climates.

Aedes Albopictus, on the other hand, are the more adaptable cousins of the Aedes Aegypti. They have been known to survive in temperate climates like New England. They do this by hibernating during the winter and emerge in the springtime. Aedes Albopictus are also known as the Tiger mosquito because of their striped appearance. Unlike the Yellow Fever mosquito, the Tiger mosquito feeds mainly during the day, preferring to rest during the morning and night. They are particularly weak flyers, maintaining a 200-yard flying radius from their home. Like most mosquitoes, the Tiger mosquito will be frequently found in areas with standing water and only need one-half inch of water to breed.

To protect yourself from catching the Virus, avoid being bitten. How? Avoid going outside between dusk and dawn (peak feeding times). But, since the Tiger Mosquito often feeds during the day, it’s important to take more precautions. Screen all windows and doors of your home. When going out, make sure to: 1). Wear long-sleeve shirts and pants to avoid being bit; 2). Use an EPA registered insect repellant with 20% DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 or lemon eucalyptus oil (Never use insect repellants on children under 2 months old). If you’re planning to wear sunscreen, apply before the insect repellant; otherwise, the repellant will be ineffective. For extra protection, treat your clothing with Permethin. Also, reduce the Mosquito population around your home by eliminating all standing water (their breeding area). Focus on tire swings, bird baths, eaves and drains, unmaintained swimming pools and ornamental ponds.

IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE BEEN INFECTED BY ZIKA VIRUS, see a doctor immediately. Because Zika is so similar to other illnesses, only a doctor can effectively detect it. Continue to take precautions to prevent Mosquito bites for the first week of illness. Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on humans with the Virus. This can spread Zika to more and more people if you’re not careful. Men who think they might be infected should either abstain from sexual activity or use protection for a few weeks. Men can spread the Zika Virus to their partners before, during or after they show symptoms. The Zika Virus has been shown to remain in semen longer than blood, but the CDC is currently uncertain how long it continues to be present. Because of this, if a man has a pregnant wife and is afraid he may have the Virus, take precautions when engaging in sexual activity with his wife throughout her pregnancy. Take precautions when traveling to Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Southeast Asia, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.

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