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By now, the Zika virus’ threat to pregnant women is no secret. It’s been blasted across our news media outlets, discussed in depth on social media, and largely covered by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention for months now — raising eyebrows and causing a bit of panic every time the CDC raises its alert level, most recently to the highest level of concern. We’ve been told of the devastating effects of the virus in Brazil and warned immensely about its transmission to the United States. With summer looming, warmer weather, humid conditions, and the annual reappearance of the mosquito, the fear of the unknown has pregnant women everywhere asking their doctors, “Should I be worried?”
Truth be told — any amount of research on the Internet about the Zika virus will lead to very few definite answers to that question. The CDC itself states that the Zika virus will continue to spread, but it’s difficult to determine how and where it will spread over time. With many sources projecting an outbreak in the southeastern U.S. states, others tend to hold out on the belief that it will make its way to mainland U.S. by any other means than travel-associated cases. Such reports have left many pregnant women fearful of the summer ahead, or quite the opposite — skeptical. Whether you believe it to be mostly media hype or a real cause for concern, being prepared with the right kind of knowledge and prevention is the key to keeping you and your unborn baby healthy.
What is the Zika Virus?
The Zika virus, a virus transmitted by two types of mosquitos, has knowingly been around since the 1950’s, but remained localized to areas of Africa and Asia, with effects seemingly benign. It wasn’t until 2013 when an outbreak occurred in French Polynesia that the virus was linked to a very real health complication, Guillian-Barre Syndrome. When another large outbreak occurred in Brazil in 2015, and then rapidly began expanding earlier this year, the virus’ once thought mild symptoms were now being linked to an increase in babies born with microcephaly, a usually rare neurological disorder where the infant’s head is significantly smaller than average. Even with talk throughout the Internet hypothesizing other possible links to the major increase in microcephaly cases in Brazil, the CDC published a statement in April of this year in which they concluded that the Zika virus causes microcephaly and other severe brain defects. Some still remain skeptical as not all cases of infected pregnant women have gone on to have babies with neurological complications. But, time and more science will tell, and while we’re waiting around for an answer, we should take the necessary precautions against a very real health concern.
I’m Pregnant. What Can I do to protect myself?
Pregnancy is a joyful, yet difficult and sometimes scary part of motherhood. With warning labels slapped across many of our medications, foods, and daily products worrying mothers-to-be about the danger of the outside world on their unborn child, adding a world-wide health emergency to the mix doesn’t ease the mind in any sense. As summer begins and the mosquito makes its annual appearance, it is important that you are aware of what’s happening and how to protect yourself just in case the virus makes its way to your hometown.
1. Invest in a good bug spray
It’s a pretty obvious prevention plan, but spraying yourself with bug spray before heading outdoors is your first line of defense. With many different kinds of bug sprays on the market, it’s hard to determine which one offers the best protection. And for those chemically aware of what you put onto your skin and in your body, it’s important in this case that you research the best bug spray for you. Unfortunately, according to recent research done by Consumer Reports on the best bug sprays to battle mosquitoes, sprays containing only natural plant oils won’t do you any good. Most wore off within an hour, or didn’t work at all, and when it comes to a real health concern, it’s better to be safe. For your best protection, using a spray containing Deet (with a 20%-30% concentration) or picaridin, will keep mosquitoes (particularly those able to carry the Zika virus) at bay for up to 8 hours. While both are considered safe for use during pregnancy, using the recommended amount as little as possible is probably best for keeping high toxins out of your body and away from your growing baby. Which brings us to our next point of protection…
2. Wear Long Clothing Even on Hot Days
Yes, we understand — you’re already swollen, you’re hot 24/7, and you’re pregnant arguably during the worst time of the year: summer. Wearing long sleeves and long pants when it’s reaching the year’s highest temps is the last thing you want to do, nor can you even seem to fathom it! But, keeping your body covered while outdoors is one of the best things you can do to prevent mosquito bites, especially if you aren’t too keen on covering yourself in bug spray each day. Mosquitoes like high temperatures, and they also really like an easy target, but aren’t likely to take a trip up a pant leg or through a sleeve. Take a tip from us; enjoy those hot summer days basking in the air conditioning, feet up, with an ice cold (virgin) drink in hand. You deserve it, mama.
3. Turn up the Air
One reason some are skeptical of the virus’ effects in the U.S. compared to that of Brazil is the accessibility of air conditioning in the U.S. Most homes in the southeast, where the virus is thought to venture this summer, have modern air conditioning — a natural barrier for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes like warm, wet places… not the cool, perfectly executed, 68 degree temperature of your home. Keeping your air conditioner on throughout the summer is the best way to keep mosquitoes out of your home and away from your body.
4. Install Window Screens
If you’re not keen to having the air conditioner on full blast all summer long, having screens in your windows when they are open is also a great barrier for those pesky biters. Mosquitoes are small, but most modern screens are designed to keep even the smallest bugs out. Before opening your windows, be sure that the screens are in good shape, fit the shape of the window correctly, are installed correctly, and don’t have any holes. Let the fresh air flow through your home, but let your screens do their job.
5. Spray your yard and landscaping
There are many companies now that offer mosquito spraying for your lawn. Some believe this is a great option for protection against the Zika virus, while others weigh the risk of the repellant on pets and children (be sure to do your research or talk to a professional company about any of your concerns prior to lawn treatment). If you are one to spend a lot of time out on your lawn, in the garden, or on your porch, this might be a considerable option for you to look into.
6. Stay clear of stagnant water
Mosquitoes breed in warm, stagnant fresh water — even a drop the size of a bottle cap can breed up to 200 mosquito eggs! Steering clear of everything from ponds, stagnant rain water, plastic swimming pools, pool covers, or even any old tin cans lying around will help prevent a bite. This is also helpful when ridding your lawn and porches of mosquitoes — be sure to keep gutters clean, empty old flower pots and buckets, change water in bird baths or fountains, and drill holes in the bottom of your trash cans if kept outside. Light rain storms are also sure to bring about the bugs, so take that opportunity to stay indoors or definitely wear bug spray when out. Just remember, mosquitoes need water to live and breed, so wherever there is water this summer, you are sure to find a mosquito… or hundreds.
7. Enjoy a night out
Okay, so maybe you won’t be pulling up a seat at the local bar anytime soon, but if you like to get outdoors during the summer months, going out as the sun goes down is the best time to feel the grass between your toes without feeling the pinch of a bite. Mosquitoes are active during daylight, with mornings and evenings being their prime time for feeding, so staying out of their way during that time will ensure that you are protected from the possibility of the Zika virus. Instead, head outside after the sun goes down, light a campfire, roast some marshmallows, and catch a few fireflies — all without the worry of those pesky blood suckers.
8. Be Cautious of Travel
Be wary of your travels this summer. Before traveling, especially outside of the U.S., check the CDC’s Zika travel warnings for expectant mothers or those trying to conceive. This goes for your spouse as well, as the Zika virus has been proven to be sexually transmitted in some cases. So far, all Zika cases in the U.S. have been travel related. Save the babymoon for another time or do something a little different and head up north. While the beaches of Brazil and South America are absolutely stunning, they will be there well after your baby is born and might even make for the perfect mommy/daddy getaway — which you’ll need after months of sleepless nights, infant feedings around the clock, diapers, and lots of tears – both yours and baby’s.
I’m trying to conceive or I’m thinking about conceiving. What should I do?
Babies on the brain? Follow all of the tips provided above even if you aren’t yet pregnant. The CDC warns that the virus can stay in your body for up to 8 weeks after symptoms first appear. The same warning goes for those showing no symptoms, but are exposed to the virus either through travel or sexual intercourse with a man exposed but not showing any symptoms. For those with a male partner who has been infected with the virus, the CDC warns that a couple should wait at least 6 months before trying to conceive.
As the mercury rises this summer and more information comes out about the Zika virus, be vigilant about staying aware of the possibilities in your own backyard. If questions or worry should arise, always seek the counsel of your doctor.