Of the Zika cases reported in the in the United States so far, most have been incidents of travelers exposed in countries where the virus is active, which currently include 54 nations and territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But a recent outbreak in Miami traced to a local mosquito population led the CDC to take the rare step of issuing a travel warning. The agency advises pregnant women, their partners and couples thinking about having a child in the near future to avoid Wynwood, a downtown Miami neighborhood.
Now that the Zika virus has not only arrived in the United States, but is also being transmitted through local mosquito populations, here are strategies to control mosquito populations in your area and protect yourself from their bites.
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Target their breeding grounds.
Mosquitoes lay their eggs, anywhere from 100 to 300 at one time, in pools of shallow, stagnant water containing organic matter. While natural wetlands like lakes, ponds and swamps are breeding grounds for mosquitoes, stagnant water pockets in urban areas, such as ditches, fountains, ponds, bird baths, wading pools, trash cans or recycling bins, tend to contain the highest populations of disease-carrying insects.
A mosquito needs a minimum of four days to complete its life cycle from egg to larva to pupa, so that's how long municipal workers and property owners have to remove or otherwise treat stagnant water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends such steps as changing water in bird baths, plant trays and other places it may collect; draining temporary pools of water or filling them with dirt; and keeping swimming pools clean and circulating.
Don't forget about the adults.
Going after the next generation of mosquitoes is all well and good, but what about the ones here now currently spreading disease?
Controlling mature populations of mosquitoes is known as "adulticiding." This involves the use of aerial or ground-based chemical insecticides applied as ultra-low volume (ULV) sprays. ULV sprays typically involve small quantities of the insect-killing ingredients over a relatively large area, typically less than 3 ounces per acre, according to the EPA, to minimize risk to people and the environment.
For homeowners, outdoor residential misting systems are available for those who live in especially mosquito-prone areas.
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Use insect repellent, and cover up.
If you know you're going to be outdoors for a significant amount of time and live in a mosquito-prone area, be sure to use insect repellent. The CDC recommends repellents containing the following active ingredients: DEET; picaridin, also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin; oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD); and IR3535.
In addition to spraying on skin, insect repellent, such as permethrin, should also be applied to clothing for added protection. (Permethrin should not be used on skin, however.) Mosquitoes can actually penetrate thin clothes. Also, when possible, wear long sleeves and pants.
When necessary, use a mosquito bed net.
A mosquito bed net can keep the bloodsuckers and other biting insects from waking anyone sleeping outdoors or in a room lacking window screens. Permethrin-treated bed nets offer even more protection than those without any insect repellent.
Mosquitoes are dangerous insects, and the latest Zika virus is just the latest in a series of devastating outbreaks directly attributable to these flying syringes. But even as new epidemics occur, the same prevention strategies should continue to work to keep the disease-ridden bloodsuckers at bay.
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