Mosquito Bites and Zika Buzz

April 21, 2016
by Dr. Jane Wilkov

It’s springtime in Georgia and annoying mosquitoes will soon be on the loose. This year a new scare has everyone asking about Zika virus. Can I get it if I have not traveled out of the US? Do kids get sick with it? What should we worry about? What insect repellant is safe to use? Is my baby at risk? What if I’m pregnant?

Here’s a brief recap of what we know about Zika virus:

The virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1947 and is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Most people don’t even know they are infected, as symptoms, if they develop, are often very mild. Fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes) are most common.

The most recent outbreak in Brazil, and now spread to many other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean has raised many concerns. There is ongoing research about the association of a severe birth defect called microcephaly (abnormally small head and risk of long term neurological deficits) and other possible birth defects seen in babies born to mothers infected with the virus during pregnancy.

As of now all Zika cases in the US are associated with travel to infected areas. The most recent CDC US data as of April 13, 2016 reveals 358 travel associated cases, 0 locally acquired cases, 31 cases in pregnant women and 7 sexually transmitted cases.

We don’t know what the chances are that the virus a pregnant woman contracts will be transmitted to the fetus, nor the number of babies that will have severe problems if infected. We do know enough however, for the CDC to issue special precautions for pregnant women. Since women of child bearing age may not know they are pregnant they too must use caution:

     Consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.

     If you must travel to or live in one of these areas, talk to your health-care provider first and strictly follow  steps to prevent mosquito bites.

     If you have a male partner who lives in or has traveled to an area where Zika transmission is ongoing, either use condoms the right way every time, or do not have sex during your pregnancy.


The Life Cycle of Aedes Mosquitoes:

100’s of eggs at a time are laid in any natural or artificial water containing holder such as bowls, cups, fountains, clogged gutters, tires, barrels, outdoor water toys, and vases. Larvae emerge from mosquito eggs, but only after the water level rises to cover them. After molting three times the larva becomes a pupa, which then leaves the water as an adult flying mosquito. Females feed on humans, then look for water to lay more eggs. They love people, live within a few blocks of where they are born and if there is a way will happily enter your home. The moral of this story is DO NOT LEAVE WATER FILLED OPEN CONTAINERS AROUND YOUR HOME!

The fear as we approach mosquito season is that the species will bite a person infected with Zika and then transmit the virus to the next person she bites. Therefore there is a big push to try to decrease the mosquito population and strong advice to protect yourself when going outdoors.

So, in addition to eliminating water containing outdoor sources, being especially careful at dusk, and wearing light colored clothing use this guide to protect your family before going outside to enjoy the summer fun. Two commonly asked questions- Yes, repellant can be used when pregnant or nursing and yes, use with sunscreen – apply the sunscreen first.

Type Efficacy Duration Precautions/Usage
Chemical repellants with DEET


Considered best defense against biting insects – mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, gnats and some flies 2-5 hours depending on concentration (10% – about 2 hours, 24% about 5 hours) Use no more than 30% DEET, may be greasy.

Do not use < 2 months of age

Chemical repellants with Picaridin Effective against flies, mosquitoes, chiggers, and ticks. May be as effective as equivalent concentrations of DEET 7% is equivalent to about 10 percent DEET (one to two hours of protection), 20% concentration is equivalent to 20% DEET (four to five hours) Odorless, non-greasy, and does not dissolve plastics or other synthetics. Do not use < 2 months of age
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Variable protection – mosquitoes and knats, questionable for ticks 4- 6 hours. Do not use < 3 years of age. Do not apply more than twice/day
Essential oils such as citronella, cedar, soybean Limited and variable protection – high concentrations may be more effective.

Questionable for ticks

Short term – less than 1 hour for citronella. Most need reapplications Natural products – some may be irritating to the skin
Repellants with permethrin Mosquitoes and ticks Can last several weeks even with multiple laundering Use on clothing, tents, sleeping bags – never directly on skin

More information

For more on Zika virus, visit the CDC.

To see the CDC list of sites where Zika virus is active

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