Staying Safe from Zika Virus

no_mosquitoMosquitoes are a staple summertime pest in Alabama. They are also vectors for disease, which means that mosquitoes can transfer diseases from one human or animal to another, and right now the disease that is worrying many Alabamians is the Zika virus. Below, learn about the Zika virus and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

What is Zika?

The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947. The first cases of Zika virus in humans were detected in 1952, and have since been reported across the world. Increases in global travel have brought once uncommon diseases to the United States, and outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases have become more common in recent years.

Mosquitoes become infected with Zika when they bite a person that is already infected with the virus. Then, the infected mosquito can spread the Zika virus to others through bites. An infected Aedes species mosquito is the most likely to transmit the virus to humans. These mosquitoes are aggressive, active throughout the day, and can live indoors and out. They lay their eggs in or near standing water in things like buckets, bowls, planters, animal dishes, and other water collectors. Zika can also be spread by a pregnant woman to her fetus. 

How Do I Know If I Have Zika?

Only about 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus will develop the disease. The illness is usually mild, and if symptoms develop, they could last from a few days to a week. Many people infected won't even show symptoms, or will only have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain, and headache. Most infected people won't get sick enough to go to a doctor, and people very rarely die of Zika. The virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days, but can be longer in some instances. Once a person has been infected with Zika, they are likely protected from future infections. 

If a pregnant woman is infected during pregnancy, Zika virus can cause a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly or other brain defected. Other problems, such as eye defects, hearing deficits, and impaired growth, have also been detected.

If you suspect that you have been infected, avoid being bitten again so that the virus does not spread to others. Get plenty of rest and treat the symptoms of the virus. 

Protect Yourself From Zika Virus

Because there is no vaccine or medicine for Zika, the best way to protect yourself from the virus is to reduce your threat of being bitten by mosquitoes. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends spraying clothing with repellents containing premethrin or DEET, and apply insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin. Also, when spending long periods of time outdoors, be sure to wear long sleeves and pants in a loose fit to retain less heat - it makes you less attractive to mosquitoes. 

Another recommendation is to take precaution by cleaning up your yard and around your home. Repair screens on windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from entering your residence. Avoid opening windows and doors that are not equipped with screens for long periods of time. Get rid of any standing water around your house and dispose of items that could potentially become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. If you are sleeping outside, protect yourself by using mosquito bed nets. 

If you are planning on traveling outside of the United States, especially to an area that is heavily affected by Zika virus, take extra precaution to remain bite-free. 

Tuscaloosa County Prevention Activities

Closer to home, Tuscaloosa County is also taking precaution against the spread of the Zika virus. Tuscaloosa County Public Works has extended their summer mosquito spraying schedule in the county until October of 2016. The City of Northport sprays the entire city limit for mosquitoes once a week, and will continue doing so through October. The City of Tuscaloosa sprays the city limits on a bi-weekly basis and will continue to do so through October. The City of Tuscaloosa also places larvicide in standing water on an as-needed basis to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. In addition, there are a number of private companies that can be hired to spray individual houses and yards against mosquitoes that serve the Tuscaloosa market. The Tuscaloosa County Health Department and EMA will continue to monitor the situation and any updated guidance that develops.

Current Zika Status

There are 9 reported cases of Zika virus in Alabama as of August 4, 2016. All of these cases have been travel-related. Currently, there is a neighborhood in Miami, Florida, where it has been identified that mosquitoes are transferring the Zika virus. The CDC is advising pregnant women to avoid traveling in this area or to get tested if recently visited the area.


More extensive information about Zika can be found on the CDC website (click HERE) or the Alabama Department of Health website (click HERE).