The Zika Virus: What It Is, Where It Is, and Protective Steps to Take

Okay, so for a while there, April felt more like February or early March as cold rain and even snowflakes fell to the ground here in the Philadelphia area, with freeze warnings in place even as of this writing. Not good for fragile plants or for us tired-of-winter folks, but that was then. Now mid-month, the thermometer reads 77 degrees and the great of-out-doors beckon. Only problem: Mosquitoes are not far behind.

The Zika Virus: What It Is, Where It Is, and Protective Steps to Take

In the good old days, that just meant an annoying bite or two and buzzing in our ears while trying to get to sleep. But years later, the mosquito-borne West Nile virus made an appearance on our shores, hitting an all-time high in 2012. Last year, another one, Chikungunya, came our way with such symptoms as fever, nausea, muscle and joint pain. And now we have a third mosquito-borne illness, this one now making headlines, such as USA Today's "Health officials say Zika 'Scarier than we thought."

So, here's what you should know...

Six months ago, most of us had never heard the word Zika, let alone given it a second thought. Named after a Ugandan forest, it was discovered back in 1947 with the first human cases reported in 1952. Fast forward several decades when, one year ago, the Pan American Health Organization sent out an alert about the first confirmed case in Brazil-far enough away from our shores so still not a big deal for us. Be advised, however, that the alert has since been updated.

And now just two months ago, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus "a public health emergency of international concern." That means us, too. Indeed, the threat is so great that the White House recently asked Congress for $1.9 billion to help combat and curb its impact here. Hopefully, the monies will soon be forthcoming, as the primary culprit, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has already invaded 30 states. Likewise, another carrier, the Aedes albopictus mosquito, aka the Asian tiger mosquito, has made its way here, as well.

Meanwhile, just this week a Camden woman was diagnosed with the virus; earlier two cases were confirmed right here in Montgomery County-all travel-related, but still... Nationwide, 346 people have already been infected.

Fortunately, just 20% of those exposed to the virus become ill and the symptoms are usually mild in nature and include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Joint pain

The greater concern, however, is to expectant mothers whose developing fetuses are at great risk for microcephaly, a birth defect that causes smaller than normal heads and poorly developed brains. It's also potentially fatal. Of the 346 Americans so far infected, 32 were pregnant-at risk not just during the first three months their pregnancies but up to the sixth month, as well.

We know now, too, that Zika is linked to various neurological diseases in adults-and that it's spread not just by the bite of a mosquito but sexually too. In fact, that was the case in seven of the 346 already diagnosed here. Note, too, that a vaccine does not yet exist, so...

If travel plans are in the offing, keep abreast of alerts, particularly if pregnant. To date, 24 countries are on the travel warning list, including Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic.

Then take a look outside at your surroundings, as standing water is the perfect mosquito breeding ground. The drill includes:

  1. Avoid wet, grassy areas.
  2. Keep the pool clean and chlorinated; also remove standing water on the pool cover.
  3. Clean out clogged rain gutters.
  4. Turn plastic wading pools, wheelbarrows, etc. over when not in use.
  5. Dispose of old tires.
  6. Toss out empty containers-plastic or otherwise-as they can collect water.
  7. Empty flower pot dishes of any water.
  8. Bring in recycling containers asap, so water doesn't collect in them.

Meanwhile, try to stay indoors at dawn, dusk, and early evening. And, of course, wear long pants, long-sleeved tops, shoes and socks if going out there. Use insect repellent, too, but...

  • DO NOT to use more than 30% DEET on anyone.
  • DO NOT to use aerosol spray insecticides in pressurized containers, as they can be inhaled and/or get into eyes.
  • DO NOT to use repellent mixed with sunscreen, since reapplying sunscreen every few hours risks overexposure to the repellent.

Your safest bet: The worry-free, chemical-free N'visible patch. This one-of-a-kind, vitamin-based, DEET-free protection is both safe and effective. Field-tested in Africa, it protects within 30 minutes, lasts up to 12 hours, and actually improves with continuous use. The reason: Mosquitoes hunt for CO2 which is masked by the patch. No creams, lotions, or sprays to deal with. Instead, simply apply the N'visible patch anywhere on the skin-arm, wrist, chest, hand-and you're good to go, no fuss, no muss.

The Zika Virus: Protective Steps to Take

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