The Zika virus has been in the news for a while now, with the infection by the virus “spreading explosively,” as per the World Health Organization.1 The Zika infection usually causes symptoms like fever, red eye, skin rashes, headache, and joint and muscle pain. The symptoms are generally mild and only last between 2 to 7 days. But if you contract the disease while you’re pregnant, it can have serious consequences for your baby, including congenital brain defects. This virus can also trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome, a dangerous condition that affects the nervous system.
The Zika virus is mainly transmitted by infected mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, primarily Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito that spreads dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya. You can also catch the virus by having sex with an infected person and researchers are exploring the possibility that it might be transmitted through blood transfusions.2 Your best bet is to protect yourself from the virus, so what precautions can you take?
Protecting Yourself From The Zika Virus
1. Avoid Places With Zika
Zika can cause serious problems during pregnancy. So if you are pregnant, it’s best to postpone travel to areas with a high or moderate risk of the virus unless absolutely necessary. In fact, if you’re planning a pregnancy and have to travel to Zika-prone areas, do wait at least 8 weeks after getting back to avoid a risk of infection.3
So where in the world can you get Zika? Well, mosquitoes that transmit Zika generally do not live at altitudes higher than 6500 feet so you have a lower risk of catching the infection in these areas.4 Outbreaks of the virus have occurred in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. In the United States, parts of Florida and Texas have been affected. Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention release travel advice marking different countries and areas at risk of Zika. As these recommendations may be updated from time to time, please check current recommendations before you travel.5
2. Get Rid Of Stagnant Water
The mosquitos which transmit the Zika virus breed in standing water. At least once a week make sure that you clear out containers holding water. These could be flower pots or old tires lying about. Also clean and replace water in standing water bodies like pools or even your birdbath regularly.
3. Use A Larvicide
Biological agents and chemical pesticides can be used to destroy the eggs of mosquitoes in places like ponds or water fountains. This helps control the mosquito population.6 But you can also look at natural alternatives that work effectively. For instance, essential oils of sweet flag and sweet basil have been found to have larvicidal activity against mosquitoes and may be helpful.7
Fogging with insecticides can kill disease-carrying mosquitoes. During chemical fogging, insecticides are used in small amounts that can only kill mosquitoes. Occasional exposure is not harmful and you might benefit from leaving your doors and windows open while an operation is being carried out by local health agencies so that any mosquitoes inside clear out.8
If you want to fumigate the house naturally, here’s a remedy that you can check out. Simply burn citronella or lemon grass oil in candles or lanterns to drive mosquitoes away.9
5. Use A Mosquito Repellent
Using a mosquito repellent can help keep blood-sucking mosquitoes off your skin when you go out. While chemical products will have active ingredients like DEET, Picaridin, and IR3535, 2-undecanone, you can choose natural alternative products with lemon eucalyptus or citronella oil. Make sure you follow instructions on how to use the product, especially before using them on children. They are best avoided for children under the age of 3. Even with older children, instead of directly using the repellent on the child, dab some on your hands and then apply on the child, avoiding their hands, mouth, eyes, and any irritated or broken skin.10
Diluted neem oil can also be used as a repellant. According to one study, an application of neem oil diluted with coconut oil afforded protection of 85% against Aedes mosquito.11 But neem oil is very strong so be sure to do a patch test even with the diluted oil before you use it on the skin.
You can also limit exposure to mosquitoes by wearing long sleeved shirts and pants.
6. Use Nets, Screens, And Air Conditioning
Screens on your doors and windows can keep mosquitoes out. It’s also a good idea to use a bed net at night. Protect babies below the age of 2 months by draping netting over their car seat or carrier when you take them out. Also, mosquitoes prefer warmer temperatures so using an air conditioner can also be helpful.12
7. Temporarily Abstain From Sex If Partner’s Been In A Risk-Prone Area
If you or your partner have traveled to a part of the world where Zika is active, it makes sense to temporarily abstain from sex till you’re certain that you don’t have the infection. The World Health Organization recommends abstinence for a period of 6 months after you return to prevent the sexual transmission of Zika. And if you or your partner is pregnant, it’s advisable to abstain for the duration of the pregnancy.13
8. Practice Safe Sex
Practicing safe sex can also help lower the risk of sexual transmission of Zika. Here are some measures that you need to take to stay safe:
Using male or female condoms can help protect you. However, do keep in mind that a condom needs to be used every time you have sex whether it’s anal, vaginal, or oral, as well as when you share sex toys.
Latex or polyurethane condoms are considered to be best. Just be sure to store them away from moisture and heat. For instance, it’s not a good idea to keep them in your wallet as the friction and heat can be damaging. Also, using oil-based products like lotion, baby oil or petroleum jelly with condoms can cause the rubber to break. On the other hand, a silicone- or water-based lubricant can help prevent condoms from breaking.14
Dental dams can be used to provide protection during oral sex. These are sheets made of polyurethane or latex which can be placed between the mouth and anus or vagina when you have oral sex.15 16
|↑1||Why Zika Is This Year’s Scary Virus. National Geographic.|
|↑2, ↑13||Zika virus. World Health Organization.|
|↑3||Zika virus. National Health Service.|
|↑4||World Map of Areas with Risk of Zika. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑5||Areas with Risk of Zika. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑6||LARVICIDES AND LARVICIDING. UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA.|
|↑7||Manzoor, F., K. B. Samreen, and Z. Parveen. “Larvicidal activity of essential oils against Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus larvae (Diptera: Culicidae).” J. Anim. Plant Sci 23, no. 2 (2013): 420-424.|
|↑8||Mosquito ‘fogging’ will not harm you, reminds WHO and Solomon Islands Ministry of Health. World Health Organization.|
|↑9||Qadir, Muhammad Imran, Khizar Abbas, Madeha Tahir, Muhammad Irfan, Syeda Fiza Raza Bukhari, Bilal Ahmed, Muhammad Hanif, Akhtar Rasul, and Muhammad Ali. “Dengue fever: Natural management.” Pakistan journal of pharmaceutical sciences 28, no. 2 (2015).|
|↑10, ↑12||Prevent Mosquito Bites. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑11||Sharma, S. K., V. K. Dua, and V. P. Sharma. “Field studies on the mosquito repellent action of neem oil.” The Southeast Asian journal of tropical medicine and public health 26, no. 1 (1995): 180-182.|
|↑14||The Right Way To Use A Male Condom. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑15||How To Use A Dental Dam As A Barrier For Oral Sex. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑16||Sexual Transmission & Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|