A dire new warning about the Zika virus: pregnant women should stay away from south Florida.
The travel restriction was issued today by federal authorities in an effort to curb the spread of Zika and resulting birth defects caused when pregnant women get the virus. The news has many people wondering, where else might Zika spread in the U.S and how can you protect yourself?
So far 1,600 people have been infected with the Zika virus from travelling, 400 of them live in Florida. And when those people came home – they could have been bitten by another mosquito – the bug would actually get the virus from the person and then spread it to others. Now 14 cases in Florida have occurred without travel, meaning Zika carrying mosquitoes are on U.S. soil and the outbreak will only get bigger.
“It’s highly likely that there will be additional cases and there will be additional spread. But we don’t expect to see anything like they’ve seen in some of the Latin American countries. We do have really good mosquito control here in the United States," said University of Chicago Medicine infectious disease physician Jessica Ridgway.
The danger area now is in a neighborhood of Miami known as the Wynwood Arts District.
“What we are seeing in this neighborhood is a large number of infections and a continued presence of the particular mosquito that spreads the Zika virus," said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden.
The effects for newborns when mothers are infected is lifelong – a birth defect called microcephaly – where children have unusually small heads and severe brain damage. So is Florida the only place pregnant women should avoid?
"Right now the CDC is only recommending avoiding that one specific area," Ridgway said. "I would recommend if you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant that you speak with your healthcare provider to make the decision about whether you should travel or not. If it’s voluntary travel that you can cancel it would probably be prudent to rethink it."
Sexual contact has also been known to transmit Zika – so partners of women who want to get pregnant need to worry as well. And if either have already visited south Florida, they should delay trying to conceive for at least eight weeks. For men the timeframe is 6 months – as the virus lives longer in sperm.
"The virus infects and attacks the baby while they are developing, so it causes damage to the developing brain and nervous system, and that is why it is so devastating for fetuses,” Ridgway said.
And of great concern, those particular mosquitoes carrying Zika called Aedes may be resistant to the insecticides sprayed in communities to reduce the bug population.
“We don’t have a lot of standing water around, and a lot of people spend time in air conditioned buildings,” Ridgway said.
Since Zika carrying mosquitoes will not be eradicated this year and will continue to spread to other states, consumer reports decided to find out which bug sprays are most effective in keeping them at bay. In a laboratory, some brave volunteers put their arms into a cage full of 200 disease-free mosquitoes, the type that carry Zika and those that typically carry West Nile virus.
“Ingredients that are safe for everyone to use, even pregnant women, and are very effective and those are DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus and Picaridin," said Consumer Reports expert Trisha Calvo.
Sawyer Picaridin got top marks followed by Ben’s Wilderness 30 percent-DEET. Both kept mosquitoes away for up to eight hours.
Other advice: stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are out in force. And wear long sleeves and pants when possible. This is not just about avoiding the Zika virus but other well-known illnesses like West Nile.