July 19, 2017

Mosquitoes Are Back, Is Zika a Concern This Summer? An Expert Q&A

By Kendall Stacey
RN & Board Certified Infection Prevention Specialist

Q: Has there been a resurgence of Zika in the US this summer?

A: The US is only seeing travel-related cases at this time. Keep in mind, Zika is caused by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person who is infected with the virus. With people outside enjoying the warm weather, mosquitoes are also out looking for a blood meal. Infected mosquitoes can spread the virus from person to person through bites.

Q: How much at risk are we in western North Carolina?

A: As of June 21, 2017, there have been three travel-related cases reported in North Carolina. All people who have traveled to areas where Zika transmission is occurring are at risk of getting the Zika virus. Zika can be transmitted from mosquito bites, through sex with an infected person and from mother to infant. The mosquitoes that carries Zika, West Nile Virus, Dengue and Chikungunya likes warm humid areas such as central America, South America, the Caribbean, pacific islands and parts of Africa and Asia. Because Zika infections can cause severe birth defects, pregnant women should not travel to these areas. All travelers should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and sexual transmission.

We should be alert to West Nile and Zika since North Carolina sees a few cases a year. Western North Carolina is home to many mosquitoes including the species that carry West Nile and Zika. The best way to prevent mosquito-borne illness is to prevent mosquito bites.

Q: What is the best way to prevent mosquito bites? Are natural solutions effective, or only DEET?

A: The CDC recommends using an insect repellent with DEET to prevent bites. Using the insect repellent with DEET is a safe and effective way to prevent mosquito bites. Other ways to protect yourself and your family from bites is to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Use screens on windows and doors.

Also, take inventory of areas inside and outside your home. Look for standing water in buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths and old tires. These are items you may not think about, but are perfect places to collect stagnant water in which mosquitoes can lay their eggs. By eliminating these sources, you can decrease your risk of mosquito bites tremendously. There are some plants that naturally repel mosquitos such as citronella. Although these plants may provide some limited protection, the CDC and EPA do not recommend using natural remedies alone.

Q: What else do we need to know about Zika or mosquito-borne illnesses?

A: If you have concerns about being bitten by a mosquito, you should discuss your symptoms with your primary care provider or visit a My Care Now location.

Kendall Stacey is a registered nurse and Board Certified Infection Prevention Specialist at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. As an IP Specialist, Kendall’s primary IP responsibilities are in Emergency Management, Highly Infectious Disease planning, Environment of Care issues, Environmental Services Liaison. She is also the consulting IP to the Emergency Department, OR and Procedural areas, Sterile Processing, EMS and Decontamination Teams.