The evolution of the Zika virus: what you need to know

It appears the Zika virus is worse than originally thought. While an earlier MJ blog addressed related obligations for businesses—primarily employee education—there’s now more you need to know (and therefore more you need to share with your employees):

  • Zika affects more than pregnant women, although the repercussions are greatest for this group due to its potential to cause birth defects. Symptoms vary by individual, from mild to more bothersome.
  • The mosquito that transmits the virus, the Aedes aegypti, needs just a bit of warm air and water for breeding, which means it can breed almost everywhere. Each female can lay about 1,000 eggs, and those eggs will wait for the perfect conditions to hatch, even if that takes up to a year.
  • This particular mosquito prefers humans over animals, making us all the preferred target. They also seem to like a smorgasbord of blood supplies, leading them to sip on a variety of hosts, which only increases the number of people who may become infected with the virus.
  • Already, large populations of the Aedes aegypti mosquito have been found in South Florida and along the Gulf Coast, as well as some areas of Arizona and California, and researchers have identified at least 50 U. S. metro areas with ideal conditions for the species. Smaller pockets of the Aedes aegypti have been found in Washington, D.C., New York, and even New England.
  • There is also potential for other types of mosquitos to become carriers, which would increase geographic risk for transmission. However, at this point, there have been no reports of Zika caused by mosquitos in the U.S. All reported virus cases in our country have been in individuals who travelled and were infected elsewhere.
  • Brazil has been particularly hard hit by the outbreak. In that country alone, the virus has already been implicated in over 860 cases of microcephaly (a birth defect marked by small head and brain size development issues).

Again, it bears repeating that there have been no reported cases of Zika infections that began in the U.S. However, with the start of mosquito season, the storyline may shift again (and of course, there are other illnesses that can be transmitted by mosquitos, such as West Nile virus). As such, here are protection recommendations quoted directly from the Centers for Disease Control website:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Take steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside your home.
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. Choosing an EPA-registered repellent ensures the EPA has evaluated the product for effectiveness. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women. ◦Always follow the product label instructions.
    • Reapply insect repellent as directed.
    • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
    • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
  • To protect your child from mosquito bites:
    • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.
    • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
    • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs.
    • Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
    • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
    • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items. ◦Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
    • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
    • Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.

At this point, the best thing you can do for your employees is to continue providing information. If anyone in your company does visit an area affected by the Zika virus, they should take specific steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks once they return to the United States—even if they don’t feel sick. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent subsequent transmission to others.

I encourage you to share this blog with your employees today. After all, education and awareness are our best protection against Zika at this point. Thanks for helping get the word out!