On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. There are currently Zika outbreaks in more than 20 countries and it is possible that the virus could be carried to the United States.
But you can protect yourself against Zika in just a few preparedness steps. APHA’s Get Ready campaign talked to Jill Holdsworth, MS, CIC, NREMT, chair of the emergency preparedness committee for the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, to discuss the steps she took to prepare for Zika and what we can do as a nation to prevent its spread. Holdsworth was interviewed by APHA Senior Communications Specialist Daniel Greenberg.
Q: So our first question. Everyone wants to know about Zika. What should all Americans know about the virus and how to protect ourselves and our families against the mosquitoes who spread it?
A: The most important thing to understand about this virus is that you really need to educate yourself and not get too involved with what the media is presenting because they are creating kind of a scare factor. The best thing to know about the Zika virus is the primary mode of transmission is through a mosquito. The best thing about it right now is the cold weather for a lot of us — and it’s very cold weather for a lot of us — so it’s not living mosquito season here in the U.S. So we’re at low risk at this particular time for this particular mosquito, the Aedes mosquito. But we do anticipate that there will be some transmission moving forward with the warmer months.
The (other) most important thing that you need to know is, if you are traveling to these affected countries, that you need to take every precaution that you can to prevent mosquito bites. In doing that there are more things you can do than just wearing your bug spray. You should wear long sleeves and long pants. If you’re sleeping out in the open, you need to make sure that you have proper mosquito-net protection. If you’re going to be sleeping in a hotel, there’s no reason to feel like you’re going to have a risk of having a mosquito bite. But be very aware that the Aedes mosquito is a daytime-biter so it doesn’t matter what time of day you’re going to be outside, day and night, this type of mosquito is going to bite all day long and is not going to pay attention to what time of day it is. Also this particular mosquito can bite up to five times in one feeding so the potential for spreading the virus in an infected mosquito can actually be pretty high risk. If you are in these countries you need to make sure you’re doing your due diligence to protect yourself so you’re not contributing to the spread.
Also if you are traveling and you are pregnant, you need to take every precaution you can: long sleeves and long pants, and really you should be avoiding travel to these countries if you are pregnant. But if it is unavoidable taking every precaution that you can is the best route for you for your protection.