Zika spreads beyond South, Latin America

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Zika, Zika, Zika. Everyone’s talking about it, and you’re probably sick of hearing about it by now. But unfortunately, since many Defense Department personnel travel the world for work, it’s a problem we all have to deal with—especially now that mosquitoes carrying the virus have been reported in the continental U.S.

In the past year, reported Zika cases in the U.S. had all been travel-related, meaning the infected person had recently been to an area with the Zika-transmitting Aedes aegypti mosquito, or they’d had sexual contact with someone who had. But two weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified a neighborhood in Miami where local transmission is occurring—meaning mosquitoes with the virus have officially arrived in the U.S. and are now spreading it in that area.

Zika can cause fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (rarely) and birth defects such as microcephaly in newborn children, which means pregnant women are of particular concern.

There’s currently no vaccine to prevent or treat Zika (even though researchers, including service members, are working to create one). So if you’re serving in, traveling to or returning from areas with known transmission of the virus, here’s how to protect yourself:

This one might be obvious, but it can’t be stated enough.

Use Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents only. The CDC hasn’t gotten to test other “natural” products that aren’t registered with the EPA, so it’s unclear how effective they are.

n Use repellents with at least one of these active ingredients: DEET, Picaridin (also listed as KBR 3023, Bayrepel and icaridin), lemon eucalyptus oil, para-mentane-diol or IR3535.

n Follow the directions on the repellent, and reapply as needed. If you’re using sunscreen, too, lather that on first.

n For children: use your hands to apply repellent to their faces. Don’t put it on babies younger than 2 months old, and don’t use the lemon eucalyptus oil or para-mentane-diol on kids younger than 3 years old.

Dress yourself and your children in lightweight clothing that covers your arms and legs.

You can also treat your clothing with permethrin, a synthetic chemical that’s used as an insecticide. Most service members are either given or can purchase permethrin-treated uniforms, too. Most permethrin-treated clothing will keep protecting you after several washes, and they are considered safe to wear during pregnancy.

Control the mosquito population where you live.

n Have screens on your windows and doors to keep the bugs out, and use air conditioning as much as possible.

n Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water, so get rid of any in your yard, near your home or in your home. Get more details on how to do that here.

Remember: Zika has been found all over the world at this point, not just in South and Latin America, so check travel notices for wherever you’re being assigned before you go.

If you’re a female service member who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant, make sure you talk to your health care provider before you leave for that affected area. Same goes for Family members of service members who are also pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant—if you can postpone going to an affected area, definitely consider doing so.

If you’re going to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, that’s awesome! But Zika is prevalent there, as is malaria, dengue and yellow fever.

While the virus is mostly spread through mosquito bites, Zika can be transmitted sexually, even if your infected partner doesn’t have symptoms at the time. The CDC is continuing research on the spread of Zika during sex, but like any STD, your best prevention is to either use a condom or don’t have sex at all.

If you’ve been to a Zika-affected area, don’t donate blood for at least 28 days after you return.

Base and station commanders in Zika-affected areas should have guidance published regarding force health protection measures to mitigate the risk of Zika infection, so check with them if you’re unsure what other precautions to take.

If you have more questions about Zika or are concerned that you’ve been exposed to it, call the DOD’s Zika hotline at (800) 984-8523.

Whether you’re traveling for fun, going temporary duty or being sent to a new duty station, make sure you and your Family are protected from this virus as much as possible. n