Ask the Doctors - How can I protect myself from the Zika virus?


Dear Doctors: We live on a lake in Minnesota where mosquitos are a way of life. Now that Zika has come to the United States, are we at risk?

The spread of the Zika virus to the U.S. is cause for concern but not for alarm. It’s a complex issue so the best way to answer your question is to lay out the basics.

You’re correct – Zika has been locally transmitted in two areas in South Florida. However, health officials say that a wide outbreak is unlikely. The virus, which is related to dengue, West Nile virus, and yellow fever, is transmitted by the female mosquito of the Aedes genus.

Those who are at greatest risk are pregnant women. Zika can cause a range of birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. Pregnant women are advised to stay away from areas where Zika is spreading

Because Zika is known to be sexually transmitted, men need to take precautions as well. The Zika virus can remain active in semen for up to six months, so the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise men who may have been infected to use condoms.

To best protect yourself from Zika:

-- Avoid traveling to areas where Zika is known to be active.

-- Dress to prevent mosquito bites – wear long pants and long sleeves.

-- Wear shoes and socks as well, since mosquitos will bite bare feet and ankles.

-- Stay indoors or in screened-in areas.

-- Mosquitos are weak fliers so a ceiling fan above a bed or strategically placed portable fans can be quite effective.

-- Use insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin.

As for whether Aedes genus of mosquito will reach you in Minnesota, health officials have mapped the mosquito’s potential geographic range in the U.S. The Aedes genus lives in tropical, subtropical and a few temperate climates. According to the latest map produced by the CDC, the range of Aedes aegypti, the main carrier, does not reach your area in the Great Lakes States at this time.

Although the majority of people who contract Zika recover fully in about a week, there are many unknowns regarding the virus and its effects. Vigilance remains your best strategy.

Eve Glazier, MD., MBA, and Elizabeth Ko, MD., are internists and assistant professors of medicine at UCLA Health.

Ask the Doctors is a syndicated column first published by UExpress syndicate.