While Zika made national headlines around the world last summer striking fear and panic in many, especially woman looking to get pregnant or who were pregnant, much of the hype has faded from the headlines. While most of the United States is in full swing of mosquito season so far, very few major news organizations have reported on the illness.
Unfortunately, just because Zika isn’t making national news headlines again, doesn’t mean the threat is gone. In fact, according to experts, at least 650 individuals living in the United States have already contracted Zika this year alone. However, due to the lack of signs and symptoms, that number is likely higher.
What exactly is Zika? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika is a virus that is commonly transmitted through mosquito bites, although it can also be transmitted through sexual interaction and blood transfusions.
Zika affects anyone who contracts the virus and symptoms are commonly so mild that hospitalizations do not occur, which is why many experts believe the number of actual infected patients is likely much higher.
Those who have contracted Zika will have flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Where individuals must be concerned with contracting Zika are those who are pregnant or may become pregnant.
Nearly 1 out of 10 American woman who contracted Zika and gave birth found their newborn child suffering from brain damage and/or a birth defect. Additionally, many with Zika also suffered from stillbirths and miscarriages. Zika is especially damaging to women in their first trimester of pregnancy.
While Zika is still impacting many with fewer headlines, a recent medical journal reported that the type of mosquito – known as Aedes aegypti – that carries Zika and other dangerous mosquito-held illnesses has been found in at least 28 states this year including the District of Columbia and 220 counties.
Most of the infected mosquitoes can be found in the southern half of the United States from Florida to Texas and California as well as Louisiana. However, reports of the virus in landlocked states such as Kansas and Colorado, as well as along the East Coast, have also been discovered.
The best ways to protect yourself from Zika and other mosquito-born illnesses is to prevent contraction by avoid being bitten. Many drugstores sell mosquito and insect repellent in the form of lotions, sprays and oils. However, if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, these types of repellents can contain potentially harmful chemicals.
Many mosquito repellents contain high levels of DEET. Essential oils are a great replacement or supplement for using high concentrations of DEET. For example, try using lemon, eucalyptus and clove essential oils on your body to decrease the attraction for a mosquito. Additionally, some individuals use citronella or catnip oil, all of which have been known to detract mosquitoes.
Also, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants especially during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are present and at the thickest. If you’re in an area where mosquitoes may be present at night, sleep with a mosquito net to stay protected.
It’s important to avoid watering plants during dawn and dusk times as well. Don’t leave plants in puddles of water or leave still water lying around. Mosquitoes are attracted to still water and removing these will cut down the amount of mosquitoes nearby.
While you may also not be at risk for severe Zika interactions, you still may be at risk for other diseases carried by mosquitoes. You should consider mosquitoes a threat to your health especially as you get older and, as we all know, viruses have the ability to worsen over time with new strains, so be safe and keep yourself protected during mosquito season.
Avoid traveling to other countries where the virus has been reported. Even if you are to attend a destination wedding or other travel plans, it may be best to avoid a trip until your pregnancy is over.
Individuals who are suffering should avoid having sexual relations with their partner and should avoid becoming pregnant for at least six months. There is no vaccine for Zika, leaving avoidance of contracting the virus as your only defense.
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