Moving from Alaska to Texas was a big culture shock to me. On paper, they should be really similar places but… they are not. Could not be more different. I also had to learn about and adjust to the Texas weather and new animal/insect life. In Interior Alaska, where I grew up, we have very dry weather with little moisture and only a few bugs. In Texas, it's incredibly hot and humid and there. are. bugs. OMG! THE BUGS! It's like I can't keep track off them, there are so many. And funnily enough, the one insect that I do know from my time in Alaska – the mosquito – is currently one of the most dangerous in Texas. Why? It's all due to the Zika virus. Yep. It's still out there and we need to be aware of what it is, how it effects us, and ask yourself how can I protect myself and loved ones From Zika? Because there is an elevated risk of Zika transmission beginning in the summer and straight through into the late fall due to the Texas mosquito season.
The good news is, there are simple steps that everyone can take to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus. Currently, one of the biggest concerns is that it can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy (I know that was a big issue for me while I was pregnant with Finn). It can lead to severe birth defects, including microcephaly – which has debilitating and life-long effects. If this is a concern for you and you are a pregnant woman and woman seeking to become pregnant, just know that you can take steps to protect yourself and your family. Wear long sleeves, pants, and EPA-approved insect repellent (to prevent mosquito bites). Also, if you’re pregnant, don’t travel to areas where the Zika virus is active. If you have traveled to an area with a risk of Zika, talk to your doctor about the risks of transmission and whether testing might be beneficial. And mostly importantly, use condoms or don’t have sex during pregnancy if your partner lives in or has traveled to an area with ongoing Zika transmission. For additional resources and recommendations for those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, visit texaszika.org/pregnantwomen.htm.
Please keep in mind that, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the threat of Zika transmission continues to be high, particularly along the border, the Gulf Coast, and in urban areas where the mosquito that carries the virus is commonly found. This threat has become even more heightened since Hurricane Harvey. For more information on transmission, visit texaszika.org/transmission.htm.
While the transmission from mother to child during pregnancy is a huge concern, most people can get Zika from an infected mosquito; however, it can also be spread through blood transfusion and sexual transmission. Sadly, at this time, there is no treatment or vaccine for the Zika virus. And about 80% of people who have the Zika virus won’t show any symptoms. However, if the Zika virus does affect you, the most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
So, what can you do to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus? There are a few simple steps that you can take to protect yourself, your family, and your community:
- Wear EPA-approved insect repellent. W hen used as directed, EPA-approved insect repellents are proven to be safe and effective for children and adults, even pregnant and breastfeeding women. This includes those with DEET. Children 2 months or younger should use a mosquito net to protect them from mosquito bites instead and women who are pregnant should talk with their doctor if they have any questions or concerns.
- Keep mosquitoes out of your home by using screens and closing doors.
- Drain any standing water in and around your home, if possible.
- Treat standing water that cannot be removed with larvicide, such as mosquito “dunks.”
- Create barriers between you and mosquitoes by wearing light-weight, long-sleeve shirts and pants, using screens on your windows and doors, using mosquito nets to protect babies younger than two months.
I know that people have questions about standing water and draining it so let's tackle those. It is important to drain any standing water in and around your house to help eliminate mosquito breeding grounds. Remember, it's mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus and they prefer to live near people (their main food source). Heads up that mosquitoes can breed in as little as a tablespoon of water, making it vitally important that each of us look around our homes to remove any standing water, if possible. I know that I've got some prime spots that we need to address ASAP. To help reduce the risk of being bitten by a mosquito, that could carry the Zika virus, take a few minutes to clear all standing water – even if it’s just a little bit – from places such as:
- Pet water bowls
- Toys left outdoors
- Kiddie pools
- Spare tires and tire swings
- Plant pots and saucers
- Watering cans
- Bird baths
- Areas around outdoor faucets
It's really important that you make sure you continue to dump out any standing water at least every three days to keep mosquitoes from using it as a breeding ground! If a body of water is too big to drain (like ponds) use a commercially available larvicide to prevent mosquitoes from becoming biting adults. The best way to avoid Zika though is to prevent mosquito breeding and protect yourself from mosquito bites. Find out more by visiting texaszika.org/prevention.htm.
If you’re traveling to areas where the Zika virus is active, you can take steps to protect you and your family by wearing long sleeves and pants. and applying EPA-approved insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites. Always use screens or close windows and doors at hotel rooms or places you’re staying. You should also use a mosquito net around your bed to keep mosquitoes away, if necessary. Preparing for an upcoming trip? Be sure to visit TexasZika.org/travelers.htm for more information and resources to help protect you and your family from Zika. As a reminder, men and women should either not have sex during and after travel to areas where Zika is active or use condoms to prevent sexual transmission. When you return from your trip, continue using insect repellent for at least 21 days to prevent spreading the virus to your family and community, just in case you were infected. If you were infected while traveling then be aware that mosquitoes near your home may bite you and then transmit Zika to others through a mosquito bite!
Zika can be a scary thing so stay informed and take the proper precautions. We can all work together to become more knowledgeable and reduce the number of Zika cases in our area. Let's tell this virus – #BuzzOffZika!