Zika not serious threat for most, except during pregnancy

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Most people do not have to really worry about contracting the Zika virus from a mosquito bite, an expert says, but there are plenty of other pathogens to contend with.

"Zika is so mild most people don't show symptoms, and when they do, it's like a light flu," said Steve Moore, a mosquito repellent developer in Dallas. "It's just pregnant women in the U.S. who should be concerned."

Few affected

People exposed to the Zika virus usually don't get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports on its website. "For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects."

The Tennessee Department of Health has received notification of nine people who acquired Zika virus disease in other countries and then came to Tennessee, said Woody McMillan, director of communication and media relations for the department.

"We anticipate more imported cases in the upcoming months," McMillan said. "There have been no locally transmitted cases of Zika virus disease in Tennessee."

None from bites

Nor have there been any confirmed cases in the United States being caused by people being bitten by mosquitoes, Moore said. Instead, the cases in the U.S. came about when an overseas traveler brought it back or when a person had sex with an infected person who contracted it overseas. The disease takes four days to incubate.

Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby's head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age, the CDC reports. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.

Zika did not cause any known cases of microcephaly until the past couple of years, Moore said, and researchers are not 100 percent sure why that changed. Some believe the virus mutated because of the use of such chemicals as larvicides to combat mosquitoes, he said.

Many diseases

Microcephaly is not the only mosquito-born disease. A total of 150 pathogens have been associated with mosquitoes, Moore said. Researchers expect a rise in the West Nile virus this year because it is a cyclical disease and cases have been down, Moore said. Dengue fever has been reported in the United States this year.

While most mosquitoes feed at dawn and dusk, the Aedes genus feeds all throughout the day, Moore said, and added you should take precautions when going outside.

Protective acts

The UT Extension Office has a flyer that include such tips as making your yard less attractive as a mosquito breeding ground.

"Removing or monitoring water collection sites around your home will reduce potential breeding sites," according to a publication by UT Extension titled "Mosquito Control Around Homes." "It makes sense to control mosquitoes by either removing or treating their larval habitat, thus killing them before they become annoying and before they can transmit disease organisms."

Sunscreens

To protect yourself, the Tennessee Department of Health recommends you put any sunscreens on first, then apply repellents to skin often. These can include lotions, liquids or sprays. TDH and CDC recommend use of repellents that contain DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane 3, 8-diol and IR3535.

Duration of protection varies by repellent; read labels on products to determine when reapplications are necessary for optimal protection. To learn more about insect repellents, go to cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/.

Stay covered

Moore, who develops his own line of repellents, said that he believes DEET has its limits. He recommends you wear long sleeve, white shirts; dark clothing attracts mosquitoes. When you spray a repellent on, wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt means you have less exposed skin to spray. A mosquito will take advantage of any exposed skin.

"I don't like having stuff sprayed on my body, but it's better to be safe," he said. "A mosquito's whole life is about finding blood so it can lay eggs. They are very focused on that."