Preventing Zika in Connecticut; What We Can Do

Spring break is a popular time for traveling abroad, but what if that travel is to popular tropical countries and islands that have been affected by the Zika virus? We now know that mosquitoes are not the only way that Zika is transmitted. Preventing Zika in Connecticut needs to be addressed on multiple levels.

Let’s address some basic questions about Zika Virus first.

What is Zika Virus?

The Zika virus is a disease that is similar to dengue fever, spread primarily through the bite of a specific strain zika-aedes-mosquitoof an infected mosquito, the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The Aedes mosquito which breeds, at least prior to 2015, primarily in Africa, the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia, has now begun to spread and infect people in other countries, and as of this writing, especially in Brazil and surrounding South American and Central American countries. It has been linked, undeniably now,  to profound brain defects in unborn children, most notably a condition called microcephaly, a condition that causes an infants head to develop much smaller than normal, incomplete brain development and other profound brain abnormalities.

In addition to microcephaly, researchers have found that the virus seems to kill off the tissue in entire regions of the brain, damage babies’ eyes, and heighten the risk of miscarriage and fetal death as well as other neurological complications.

Researchers believe pregnant women are at the greatest risk of having babies with birth defects if they are infected in the first trimester. They’ve also estimated that women infected with Zika during the first trimester of their pregnancies face a 1 in 100 chance of delivering a baby with microcephaly. These are high statistics. 

How is Zika transmitted?

4 ways that we are aware of right now:

  1. Via mosquito bites from the Aedes mosquito
  2. Through infected blood
  3. Through sexual contact
  4. From a pregnant mother to her unborn child

Preventing Against Zika in Connecticut: What We Can Do:

Take precautions  against being bitten by a mosquito:

    1. Wear long sleeved shirts and pants and wear socks when possible
    2. Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
    3. Do not leave any uncovered standing water, such as a baby pool, out doors- they attract mosquitos.
    4. If camping, sleep under mosquito netting. Note that the mosquito carrying Zika bites mostly during daytime hours.
    5. Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. Choosing an EPA-registered repellent ensures the EPA has evaluated the product for effectiveness. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
    6. To protect your child from mosquito bites:
      • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.
      • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
      • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs.
      • Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
      • Do not apply insect repellant onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
      • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
    7. Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex with someone who has been in an infected area
    8. Be vigilant if traveling to infected states and countries this summer. See the most current map-as of May 25- of countries most infiltrated with the Aedes mosquito and Zika virus

Will we see the Zika Virus in Connecticut?

Reports are that we may, and as soon as this summer. Although Zika originates in warm weather countries where mosquitos are breeding, the latest reports from the CDC is that these mosquitos are migrating northward and are expected to hit North America  and travel northwards as summer progresses.  Until now, Zika has not been a major threat to us in CT, except via a person who has been infected in a country carrying the mosquito,  returning to the U.S. and passing it on here. The larger threat, however, especially in the Danbury area due to its’ large Central and South American population, is that of people, especially pregnant women, traveling back and forth from Zika infected countries.

Maura Downes, Director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Public Health  recently told WFSB: “The risk for sustained mosquito transmission in CT is low this season. Aedes aegypti is not established in CT. Ae. albopictus is present but is not considered as likely to cause an outbreak as Ae. aegypti. Therefore I would say locally acquired cases are possible but the risk is far greater for people who travel where the virus is circulating in Ae. aegypti,” said  
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Is there a Zika Vaccine?

Not yet, however, we should be proud that there is currently  research being done to create a Zika vaccine , right here in Connecticut at UConn, where a Brazilian virologist, Dr. Paulo Verardi and his team are predicting a preliminary vaccine that they hope to have available for testing soon.

At this point in time, awareness, vigilance and education are the key weapons we have to prevent against Zika. If traveling to Zika infected countries or states this summer, be sure to discuss prevention with any of our providers during a travel consultation at AFC Urgent Care Danbury where we are more than happy to answer any questions you might have about Zika or any other travel related health issues.