A Note from your Doctor: Zika and Dengue

zika mosquitoWhile we’re less than a hundred days out from the election of our lifetimes, Rio will open on Friday night, and one of the considerations there will be Zika. OK, in addition to the crime, pollution, corruption and other dangers. But what about other places? Do we have a problem with mosquito-borne illnesses? Yes we do, and we need to protect ourselves and our kids.

Because I like you and try to avoid making your eyes glaze over, I’m going to skip the virology involving words like serotype, macrophages, Fc receptors and antibody-dependent enhancement. Bottom line: there are a number of different types of mosquitoes and many of them carry multiple diseases. Sometimes an infection with one disease makes infection from a second disease more pronounced. This is likely the case with Dengue intensifying the effects of  Zika. And don’t think Zika problems are limited to fetuses: Guilliane-Barre is another potential complication.

Remember that when you’re bitten by a mosquito, they take some blood from you while laying down potential infections. If a mosquito bites an infected person (Dengue, Zika, West Nile, Chikungunya, etc.) they will pass it on to the next victim she bites. (Only females suck blood.)

So what to do? First, if you are pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant or fathering a child in the next year or so, stay out of the areas already classified as having Zika mosquitoes. Malaria is another mosquito-borne illness and this map shows infection areas. For everyone else in the US, expect that mosquito-borne illnesses are a possibility.

One of the important things to do at home is to make sure there is no standing water: dump all water that ponds in gutters, planters, old tires, anything you may have around your house. Also check if you’re out camping that there is no standing water. You can’t do this off your property or campsite, but if everyone did it….

Next, follow these steps:

  • Wear mosquito repellent. While DEET is the gold standard, it can have a lot of bad side effects, especially for kids as they’re smaller than adults and have more skin area relative to body size. Thus, Consumer Reports recommends a brand called Repel. It’s lemon oil based, and their tests showed it to be as effective as DEET. However, consider putting DEET on your clothes if you’re out in deep woods. Remember to check DEET concentration levels on the label.
  • Wear loose-fitting, clothes that cover as much of you as possible. Loose clothing is more comfortable in hot weather, and if the mosquito can’t get to your skin, she can’t bite you. Since mosquitoes look for differences, wear light colored clothing in the daytime and dark colors at night.
  • If you don’t have central air and leave your windows open, consider mosquito netting. This may seem like overkill, but especially if camping outside, it’s not crazy.
  • Be aware that bug-zappers, electronic traps, and citronella candles generally don’t work. Neither do those citronella wristbands or belt clip-ons. Save your money. (Consider taking that $10 and giving it to a political campaign.)
  • The old approach was to be especially vigilant at dusk and dawn. But different mosquitoes are out and about at different times, and more types of mosquitoes are making the rounds, so take care whenever you’re outside.

If you are bitten, calamine lotion, or warmed metal spoons pressed on the bite will quell the itch.

If you get symptoms, see a doctor.

As always, fingers, nails, fingers, fingers, fingers. It will save your life.

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