Don’t get stung! What you need to know about the Zika virus

Spring is here! And while the new season means great weather, new buds and blossoms, cookouts and other cheery notes, it also usually means more mosquitos.

With the recent horror stories in the news about the Zika virus, it might be scary to think about more mosquitos in your environment and any likelihood of this new virus spreading.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says no local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported in the U.S., there have been travel-associated cases.


Given the recent outbreaks in Mexico, Central America and South America, the CDC expects the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the U.S. will “likely” increase, and could result in the spread of the virus in some areas of the country.

Based on information from the CDC, the EPA and other sources, here are a few things you should know about Zika:

How it spreads

The virus is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. If a man is infected, he can possibly infect someone else through sexual transmission.

If someone is infected and is then bitten by an uninfected mosquito during the incubation period, that mosquito can then infect others. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the species that carries Zika.


Common symptoms are fever, joint pain, rash, red eyes, muscle pain and headache. If you have these symptoms (and particularly if you have been bitten by a mosquito in the last couple of weeks), you should see a doctor.

Those infected often don’t know they have the virus because they attribute their symptoms to something else.

What to do if you have it

Rest and drink lots of fluids. You should not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen if you have, or think you might have, the virus. You can take Tylenol.


Though no mosquito-borne Zika cases have been reported in the U.S., there have been travel-associated cases.

Effects of the virus.

While the Zika virus is particularly dangerous for women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, we still do not know of any other long-term effects.

How to reduce risk

The best thing to do is avoid getting bitten by mosquitos. Cover as much of your body as you can when you are outdoors. Use mosquito repellent. (See below for more information on safe repellents.)

In addition to Zika concerns, there is also the West Nile Virus. Like Zika, it is spread through mosquito bites and has no known cure. West Nile infections occur primarily in the summer and have been reported in almost every state.

Insect repellents are important and there are a lot of options. But beware. Many contain dangerous chemicals such as DEET. Here are a few facts about mosquito repellents:

Every year, about one-third of us will rub on five million to seven million pounds of repellent in an attempt to fend off hungry mosquitoes.

Any chemical, including any pesticide, can pose risks to people, pets or the environment. Understanding pesticide risk will help you take steps to minimize it.

Overall, the risk of a pesticide depends on exposure (how much you are putting on your body or breathing in) and toxicity (how poisonous it is).

DEET is a registered pesticide. It is absorbed through the skin and passes into the bloodstream. The biggest concerns about DEET are its potential effects on the brain and central nervous system.

Depending on the level of exposure, it potentially can lead to motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction.

Icaridin (also known as Saltidin or Picaridin) was introduced as an alternative to DEET. It doesn’t carry the same neurotoxicity concerns, but has not been tested as much over the long term. Certainly, it’s a better option than DEET, but maybe not the best.

Other options to keep mosquitos at bay that aren’t advised include electronic devices that emit a low-frequency sound (scientists say these simply don’t work); bug zappers (except that mosquitoes are more drawn to carbon monoxide than UV light, so they don’t have much effect either); and mosquito coils (spiral-shaped coils that contain insecticide and are lit like incense).

Unfortunately, one mosquito coil emits the equivalent amount of formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) as 51 cigarettes.

So what are the best solutions?

If you’re going to be outdoors, wear pants, long-sleeve shirts, socks and closed-toe shoes. If it’s warm, try light colored and lightweight fabrics that breathe, allowing good airflow to keep you cool but minimizing access to your skin.

This way, if you do use a repellent, you don’t have to use much to cover exposed areas of skin. Use fine netting over strollers and baby carriers.

Plants whose essential oils have been reported to have repellent properties include cedar and lemon eucalyptus. You can easily make your own mosquito repellent using lemon eucalyptus essential oil mixed with a carrier oil or alcohol (10% essential oil and 90% diluting alcohol or carrier oil such as avocado oil or fractionated coconut oil).

Put it in a spray bottle, shake and spray (and keep it out of the sun). It smells nice and works well, but should be re-applied every couple of hours.

To make your own heavy-duty insect repellent, follow this recipe (all ingredients are available on Amazon or in naturopath stores):

  • 6 – 8 oz. of aloe vera liquid or witch hazel, or alcohol or fractionated coconut oil,
  • 40 drops of tea tree oil
  • 20 drops of geranium oil
  • 20 drops of neem oil
  • 1 teaspoon T. vegetable glycerin (optional)
  • 20 drops of essential oils such as peppermint or wintergreen

Put into a spray bottle, shake well and apply.

Enjoy all the beauty, great weather and new life that spring brings and stay safe.

Debbie Baumgarten is an author and founder of, helping others with easy healthy living habits and information.

[The content provided through this article and should be used for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the advice of a relevant professional with any questions about any health decision you are seeking to make.]

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