Zika Prevention in the Heat of Summer

As the number of Zika cases grows every day, many of us want to know what we can do to help fight off this scary infection. As you likely already know, the Zika virus most often manifests as a mild illness, but can have dramatic effects during pregnancy, including the birth defect microcephaly. There are a number of ways to contract Zika, including through sexual transmission or through tainted blood, but the most common is through a tiny bite from the Aedes aegypti mosquito. With no preventative vaccine and Zika spreading by the day, we want to know: what can we do to prevent it? In this blog post, I review top Zika prevention strategies from the CDC, OBGYNs, and dermatologists.

The lion’s share of Zika prevention is going towards preventing the spread of mosquitoes and their bites. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes usually bite during the day, and mosquitoes are attracted to areas of heavy sweat and where carbon dioxide is being emitted (i.e. the face). The CDC recommends avoiding mosquito bites by using insect repellants registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. The active ingredients that are proven to repel insects are DEET, picaridin (aka KBR 3023, Bayrepel, or icaridin), oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, and IR3535. DEET is often considered the best insect repellant in our arsenal, and concentrations of 20%-50% are safe and effective. The FDA has approved DEET for use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Dermatologists recommended Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin, Coleman SkinSmart, Cutter Skinsations, and several of the OFF! products like OFF! Deep Woods VII, OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellant I (Smooth and Dry), and OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellant II (Clean Feel). I personally was surprised by how smooth my skin felt after trying the OFF! Smooth and Dry and was impressed by the pleasant smell.

For anyone with a baby, you might be wondering if it’s ok to just douse your little one with these sprays. Insect repellant should not be used in infants less than 2 months old. Instead, you can cover a baby’s arms and legs and place a mosquito net over the crib or stroller. Insect repellant should not be sprayed onto children’s hands, eyes, mouth, or any breaks in the skin. Instead, adults can spray their hands and then gently apply to children's faces. Despite the natural-sounding name, the CDC warns against using products with oil of lemon eucalyptus (or para-menthane-diol) on children less than three years of age.

Beyond insect repellants, you can also wear clothing and use gear (like tents) that are treated with permethrin. Permethrin lasts for several washings before you need to re-treat the items, and you can even buy permethrin to treat your boots, jackets, and other outdoor gear for added protection against mosquito bites. You can also try to control mosquitoes in and around the home. While windows and doors with screens are key, it may be time to double check for any holes and repair them. Netting around beds can also help repel nighttime bites. Since mosquitoes lay eggs near water, it’s also important to clear out any standing water in and around the house, so these pesky bugs don’t have ideal breeding grounds on your property.

Scientists have also learned that Zika can be spread through sexual contact (including oral sex), so barrier methods like condoms and dental dams can cut the risk of transmitting the infection during sex. Zika can be spread even before and after a person has symptoms of the infection, making it especially tricky. Abstaining from sex is another way to prevent sexual transmission. For couples considering getting pregnant, the CDC recommends waiting at least 6 months after Zika symptoms or 8 weeks after a potential Zika exposure (without symptoms) to try to conceive.

Finally, avoiding travel to areas with Zika is yet another way to reduce the risk of getting it. For the first time, the CDC has issued a warning not to travel to a location in the United States due to an infectious disease. The Wynwood neighborhood in Miami, Florida, experienced a swell of Zika cases, leading the CDC to warn pregnant women against visiting this area. For international travel, the CDC website includes up-to-date travel notices for locations with Zika warnings (here), including much of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. With the Olympics starting in Rio, we can only guess what will happen in the weeks to come, and the updated CDC website will be key for travel planning.

We want to hear from you! What techniques have you started to use for mosquito bite prevention? Which products do you like the best?