Summer vacation time is here. Worried about Zika south of the border? Should you stay? Should you go? Our short answer? Go. But read on to make sure you stay safe and have a healthy return.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to the end of May 2016, 591 cases of Zika virus infection had been reported in the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii. All infections were acquired abroad through bites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, except for 11 that were transmitted by sexual contact in the U.S.
And of the 591, there have been 168 confirmed laboratory reports of pregnant women with Zika infection. So far, two babies born to these infected mothers have shown signs of microcephaly (abnormally small head size)—the malformation that ignited the worldwide Zika alert.
Note that the Zika virus infection, in the great majority of cases, goes undetected. When it does cause symptoms, though, they are generally mild, perhaps flu-like, and pass in three or four days. So the major risk target is the pregnant woman.
Despite this relatively stable picture, you should not let your guard down, especially if you are pregnant or have aspirations to become so.
The hottest and wettest summer months are still to come, and with them will be the squadrons of mosquitoes whose bites transmit not only Zika but chikungunya, West Nile virus, and dengue fever.
How do you protect yourself against these airborne enemies?
Thanks to a current product analyses by Consumer Reports, we can offer the following tips on the most effective mosquito repellents available. And there is no escaping the reality that deterring bites is your first line of protection against Zika.
CR found that repellents containing DEET (the most reliable component for many years) and Picaridin (known in Canada as icaridin) were shown to be the most reliable, lasting up to eight hours at appropriate doses. Icaridin, which has been used successfully in Europe for years, was introduced in the U.S. in 2005 and was approved for use in Canada in 2012.
The CR analysis found that concentrations of up to 30% DEET and 20% Picaridin were most effective at keeping away mosquitos for the longest time.
The study also found a 30% concentration lemon/eucalyptus product (Repel) to be almost as effective as the DEET and Picaridin products, but gave a thumbs down to most natural plant oils such as citrus oil, lemongrass, cedar, rosemary, and cinnamon oils.
And, surprisingly, that old standby Avon’s Skin So Soft, with 10% Picaridin, rated 60 in effectiveness on a scale of 100—not in the top rank, but still worthy of some recognition. CR says that the 10% level is too low to provide proper protection.
Picaridin is becoming favoured because it odourless and is gentler on the skin. DEET (in the higher concentrations) sometimes leads to rashes and irritations—something to consider if you’re heading to a sunset barbeque or cocktail party.
According to CR (if you’re buying your repellent in the U.S.), look for brands like Sawyer Picaridin, Natrapel 8 Hour (Picaridin), Off! Deep Woods VIII (DEET), Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, or Ben’s Deet Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula (30%). They were among the most favoured in the CR analysis.
The highest-risk states—Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and the Carolinas—have been aggressive in launching and maintaining their mosquito control programs, and so far they appear to be working.
So if you do your part, i.e., use repellents, wear loose cover-up clothing at dusk, and stand in breezy locations (apparently mosquitoes are lousy flyers and get disoriented in breezy or windy conditions) there seems little reason why you shouldn’t keep your plans intact and keep Zika from gaining a foothold on the mainland.
For more news and updates on travel warnings and restrictions, visit our main page at IngleInternational.com