Four cases of Zika infections in Miami likely originated from mosquitoes in Florida, according to the state’s governor on Friday. Previous U.S. cases of the virus were contracted abroad. The confirmation comes as little surprise to many experts who expected the virus to spread to the continental U.S. this summer.
The virus, which can cause certain birth defects when pregnant women are infected, has no cure or vaccine. Previously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned pregnant women against traveling to areas with Zika. But that is no longer enough.
While pregnant women and their unborn children face the worst consequences of the virus, everyone should take steps to protect themselves because Zika’s side effects aren’t completely known or understood. Partners of pregnant women should also be vigilant since health experts have determined the virus can be transmitted sexually.
At the same time, there’s no need to panic. Zika is expected to remain mostly in the Southeast, according to officials, with only small outbreaks elsewhere. Better housing construction, the widespread use of air conditioning and screens, and mosquito control efforts by local governments will limit its spread. Also, the risk of birth defects is small. Only one in 100 pregnant women infected with Zika will experience birth complications, according to the World Health Organization.
Here are the basic steps recommended by the CDC you can take to avoid contracting the Zika virus:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants for an extra layer of protection for your skin.
- Treat clothing with permethrin — a chemical commonly used as an insecticide and insect repellent — or buy pre-treated items.
- Use an EPA-approved insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol.
- Follow all directions, including those relating to use by young children and babies. These repellents are safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women, if used as directed.
- Stay in air-conditioned rooms when possible.
- Use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out.
- Use a mosquito net over your bed if the room is not air-conditioned, there are no window or door screens, or if you’re sleeping outside. Mosquito nets can also be treated with permethrin.
- Remove any standing water, which attracts mosquitoes, from around your home.
- Zika can be passed by sexual transmission. Prevent this by using condoms or abstaining from sex.
- Take the same precautions described above while traveling.
- Check CDC travel notices to find out where Zika outbreaks are occurring. If pregnant, avoid travel there if possible.