Infectious diseases A-Z: Protect yourself and your family from Zika

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

As the 2017 mosquito season gets underway in many warm areas of the nation, so do renewed concerns about Zika virus and its effect on human health and unborn babies.

Zika virus is spread by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus). This leads to concerns of neurologic complications, and concerns in women infected with the mosquito-borne virus during pregnancy having babies born with microcephaly, a rare neurological condition, and other severe fetal brain defects.

Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group, says there are ways you can protect yourself and your family from the mosquitoes that carry Zika.

"Probably the most important thing each of us can do is eliminate standing water around our homes and around our properties," says Poland. "That’s where mosquitoes breed. If we can get rid of the breeding ground for these mosquitoes, we can substantially reduce the number of mosquitoes and, therefore, the chance that one of them would be infected and bite us."

Poland says wearing long sleeves and long pants in areas where mosquitoes are present are important ways to protect yourself from being bitten — even during the warm daylight hours. He says the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus often bite during the day.

"Different mosquitoes bite at dusk and dawn, but the ones that carry Zika are primarily — not exclusively, but primarily — daytime biters. So using repellents, particularly ones that contain Deet or permethrin are very effective against preventing bites. Wear the appropriate clothing. Use mosquito repellent. Stay out of areas where there are a lot of mosquitoes."

To control mosquitoes around your home, consider these tips:

— Remove standing water where mosquitoes could lay eggs.

— Remove items that hold water, such as vases and flowerpot saucers.

— Use an outdoor insect spray made to kill mosquitoes in areas where they rest, including dark, humid areas; under patio furniture; or under the carport or in a garage.

— Keep mosquitoes out of your home by ensuring window screens are intact, and keep doors closed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says pregnant women should not travel to any area with a risk of Zika. The CDC offers searchable tools to show areas where Zika transmission has been reported.