Dr. Lynne M. Saddler is the district director of health at the Northern Kentucky Health Department.
We tend to think of mosquitoes as simply a pest -- an annoyance during an evening out on the patio or an unwelcome guest on a hike or camping trip.
But mosquitoes can also transmit disease. At the Northern Kentucky Health Department, we’ve been closely monitoring the global spread of the Zika virus, which is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika will get sick. For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild, so many people might not realize they have been infected.
While all cases of Zika virus reported in the continental United States to date have been connected to travel (in individuals who were infected themselves while traveling or the virus was sexually transmitted from a person who traveled), the potential for Zika to be directly transmitted to mosquitoes and eventually to humans in the U.S. exists.
So, this summer, we all need to take steps to fight the bite.
Eliminate Breeding Areas
One of the best ways to prevent Zika is to eliminate potential breeding areas for mosquitoes.
Watch for areas and objects outside of your home that can hold water and support mosquito breeding, such as birdbaths, clogged gutters, kiddie pools, old tires, flower pots or even Fido’s water bowl. Any container with standing water can become a breeding site if left untreated – even discarded bottle caps in the yard. Check your yard at least every three days for any areas or containers of standing water. Empty containers and dispose of litter. You can also apply a mosquito larvicide, purchased at local hardware stores, to areas of standing water.
Families should also take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes throughout both day and night.
Apply insect repellents to your skin when outside, using an Environmental Protection Agency-registered product shown to be effective. Be sure to always follow the product label instructions, reapplying as directed. Insect repellents are safe and should be used on babies over 2 months old and by pregnant women as well. Just be sure not to apply repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, cut or irritated skin. Adults should spray insect repellent onto their own hands and then apply to a child’s face.
When you can, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outside.
When You’re Traveling
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued travel advisories related to Zika for more than 40 countries in the Caribbean, South America, Central America and the Pacific Islands. For a complete list, visit http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information.
Because of the risk of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly (a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected because the brain is damaged during pregnancy) and other poor pregnancy outcomes, the CDC recommends that women who are pregnant consider postponing travel to areas with Zika transmission.
The virus can also be spread through sexual contact, so men and women who have traveled to these areas should talk to their health care provider about steps to take to prevent transmission, such as abstaining from sex for a period of time or using condoms, especially if the woman is pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
If you are traveling to a country where Zika has been transmitted, take steps to avoid bug bites by using insect repellent, staying indoors and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants.
The precautions for Zika should continue after you return home as well. Be on the lookout for symptoms, and contact your health care provider right away if you think you may be infected. Be sure to tell your health care provider about your travels. Continue to take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks after you return to avoid spreading Zika to local mosquitoes, even if you do not feel sick.
For the latest information on Zika in our area, like the Northern Kentucky Health Department on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or visit our website at www.nkyhealth.org.
While infection with Zika virus is a minor issue for most, the risk is high for some of our most vulnerable groups -- including pregnant women. If we all take the steps to prevent mosquitoes from breeding on our property and protect ourselves against mosquito bites, we can help limit Zika’s spread to both mosquitoes and humans in our region. We need everyone in our region to do his or her part to fight the bite this summer.