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What you need to know about the Zika Virus

Photo credit Felipe Dana/Associated Press

Photo credit Felipe Dana/Associated Press

The World Health Organization declared on February 1, 2016 that the spread of the Zika virus constitutes a global public health emergency. While there is no need for panic, there are things about this virus you should be aware of, and steps to take to ensure your health and well being.

Now if you are wondering what the Zika virus is, it is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito.

The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) of Zika virus disease is not clear, but is likely to be a few days. The symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for 2-7 days.  But there is also a suspected link between Zika and a dangerous birth defect, known as microcephaly, in which babies are born with undersized heads and brains.

Recently, the virus started its spread for the first time from the Pacific in 2007 and 2013 (Yap and French Polynesia, respectively), and in 2015 from the Americas (Brazil and Colombia) and Africa (Cape Verde). In addition, more than 13 countries in the Americas have reported sporadic Zika virus infections indicating rapid expansion of the Zika virus. In Brazil, authorities believe as many as 1.5 million people may be infected.

The United States is not immune. Nearly three dozen cases have been confirmed to date in 11 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC acknowledges that the number is growing rapidly. In fact, the governor of Florida has declared a state of emergency in 4 counties (Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee and Santa Rosa) where the virus has been found.

So far, it is believed that in all of these cases, the person was infected while out of the country. But that does not mean it cannot spread to people here. The southern states are seen as especially vulnerable because of their warm, humid climate and the fact that they are already home to mosquitoes that can transmit the virus.

pic-mosquito-life-cycle-lgWith spring right around the corner, it will soon be time to start taking precautions against mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.

The first step is mosquito prevention to take take away their breeding ground. Mosquitoes need water to lay their eggs. The eggs and subsequent larvae develop in water. So the first step is to reduce and eliminate mosquito breeding areas.

  • Drain standing pools of water around your house. Things such as gutters, rain barrels, and around air conditioning units can attract mosquitoes.
  • If you have things like bird baths, kiddie pools, or potted plants with saucers, change out the water every few days.
  • Be aware that anything that collects water could be a source of problems. Things like old tires, tin cans, uncovered trash cans, etc could become a breeding ground
  • Identify areas around your house where drainage and/or irrigation could lead to standing pools of water, and take steps to fix them

The next step is to protect yourself and your family from being bitten. Here are some tips to keep those pesky mosquitoes off your back!

  • Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. So try to remain indoors if possible
  • Makes sure your doors and windows have tight fitting screens (16-18 mesh) to keep mosquitoes out of your house!
  • Use insect repellent. Bullfrog makes a great sunscreen/insect repellent combo!
  • Keep body parts covered, and tuck in your shirt into your pants, and your pants into your socks when spending time out in the yard. This covers up areas where mosquitoes can sneak into your clothing
  • Replace outdoor light bulbs with yellow bug light bulbs. Although these are not a repellent, they are much better at not attracting unwanted bugs, such as mosquitoes.

don__t_panic_by_vigilantmeadowAs I stated above, there is NO need to panic. Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. People sick with Zika virus should get enough rest, drink plenty of fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care, but typically the symptoms only last for a week or so.

But be aware that pregnant women are especially susceptible to the Zika virus. So if you are pregnant or might become pregnant, make sure you take these precautions!vote

Stay safe out there!

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