From A to Z
AedesMosquitoes and the Zika Virus: What You Need To Know

Recently, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, known as Zika virus has had its first known case diagnosed in the United States, a person in Texas who had traveled from El Salvador. This virus has previously been found in much of the Southern Hemisphere of Africa, Asia, and South America. It has also been found in Central America.

The Zika virus, transmitted by several common species of the Aedes mosquito. These mosquito species are also found throughout Florida and many of the Gulf coast/tropical areas.  The Aedesgenus of mosquito is also one that can spread Dengue or chikungunya viruses. The mosquitoes that spread Zika virus typically are active and bite during the daytime, which makes it important to remember to wear repellent even if you’re not going to be out at dusk or nighttime. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites.

Infection

About 20% of people who are infected with Zika virus will show symptoms. From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of Zika virus can include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Other symptoms may include: muscle pain, headache, pain behind the eyes, and/or vomiting

Infections from this virus typically cause non-specific flu-like symptoms mentioned above and often last less than a week, but in pregnant women, may also lead to birth defects.

Of particular concern with this virus is its link to a potential severe birth defect called microcephaly.  This condition causes incomplete brain development in babies at the time of birth. This can lead to developmental delays, learning disorders, seizures, or other medical problems later in life. The link between Zika virus and cases of microcephaly were found when cases of microcephaly increased from a few hundred to several thousand cases in Brazil, one of the areas with the highest incidence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. The link between Zika virus and microcephaly was found when the virus was discovered in the amniotic fluid of women who gave birth to babies with microcephaly. Women who are pregnant, especially those who have traveled recently, and have symptoms like those above should seek medical attention by their OB/GYN or local primary physician.

The CDC has advised against travel to several countries where Zika virus is prevalent:

  • Barbados
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Cape Verde
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Saint Martin
  • Samoa
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela
  • Puerto Rico

Prevention

The prevention of mosquito bites is the most important way to prevent illness and spread of the virus. It is recommended to wear long sleeve shirts and pants when possible if mosquito exposure is likely. Also, the CDC recommends the use of insect repellents registered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites.

Recommended mosquito repellents are those that contain one of the following: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products that can provide long lasting protection. Examples of insect repellant products and other tips for avoiding mosquito bites.

Travelers, especially pregnant women, to countries where Zika virus is found, including recently, Puerto Rico, should travel with caution and take steps to prevent mosquito bites.

Homeowners should be vigilant about checking around their property for areas that can enable mosquitoes to breed easily. These mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water in things like tires, buckets, bowls, bird baths, flower pots, and vases.  If you have these items around your home, it is imperative to remove the standing water and clean them regularly. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters and prefer to bite people. They live indoors and outdoors near people. If sunscreen is applied to exposed skin, mosquito repellent should be applied after the sunscreen to maintain effectiveness.

Persons with non-specific flu-like symptoms, especially in returning travelers should seek medical attention from their primary care physician. There is no specific treatment for the virus and no vaccine exists to prevent it. Infected individuals are encouraged to rest and drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. Discuss with your physician which type of fever reducing medication are recommended when there is suspicion of a mosquito-borne illness.

updated 1/22/2016