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Health and Fitness

The Buzz:

Mosquitos and the Zika Virus

Mosquitos just got a lot more annoying. In addition to their painful, itchy bite, comes the possibility of being exposed to the Zika Virus.

Last year the Zika virus reared its ugly head in South America, making headline news around the globe.

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization issued an alert regarding the first confirmed case of local transmission in Brazil.

Just months later on Feb. 1, 2016, the World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern given the possible link between Zika virus and microcephaly and other neurological disorders. Local transmission has now been reported in many other countries and territories in South America and other locations.

No vaccine or drug is currently available to prevent Zika virus infection, and there is currently no specific anti-viral treatment for the disease. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites while in areas of ongoing transmission. Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime, but bites should be avoided day and night.

The Virus

Zika is now known for its potential to cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, a defect where a baby's head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same age and gender, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Zika virus is transmitted to humans by Aedes mosquitos and blood transfusions. An infected person can also pass the virus on to partners through unprotected sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4 in 5 people infected do not develop symptoms of the virus. Symptoms include fever, rash, headaches, joint and muscle aches, and conjunctivitis.

After being bitten by an infected mosquito, the majority of people do not become ill. Those who do develop symptoms typically experience fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after infection. Typically the victim does not become sick enough to require hospitalization, and it rarely causes death.

The virus is named for the Zika Forest in Uganda where it was first discovered in 1947. The first human cases of Zika were reported in 1952 and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

Prior to 2007, at least 14 cases of Zika had been documented worldwide, but there may have been more since the symptoms of Zika are similar to those of many other diseases.

The Navy Joins the Fight

Navy Medicine released Zika Virus Infection guidance in NAVADMIN 032/16, Feb. 10, communicating force health protection measures and travel precautions to Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

The Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) was cleared by the CDC to test clinical specimens for Zika virus in April.

NHRC is one of six laboratories in California, three of which are located in Southern California, that are authorized at this time to use the Trioplex Real-time RT-PCR Assay, a new test developed by the CDC, to detect the virus.

"The Zika virus is one of many mosquito-borne diseases," said Lt. Ryan Aylsworth, an entomologist at the Navy Entomology Center of Excellence (NECE) in Jacksonville, Florida. "It's recently hit our radar due to concerns from the World Health Organization and the risk it poses to forces deployed around the globe."

Part of the NECE mission is to educate Sailors and Marines who may be deployed to areas where Zika has been found. Part of that education is to avoid and mitigate areas with standing or stagnant water, which is a known breeding ground for mosquitoes.

NECE recommends wearing insect repellent, rolling your sleeves down and using permethrin-treated uniforms to minimize possible exposure to the mosquitoes that can spread Zika.

The following steps are recommended for those traveling to an area with ongoing Zika virus transmission:

* Choose a hotel or lodging with air conditioning or with screens on windows and doors.

* Sleep under a mosquito net if you are outside or in a room that is not well screened.

* Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

* Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. These are safe for pregnant women when used as directed.

* Use permethrin-treated clothing and equipment.

* Look for insect repellants that contain 20-35 percent DEET, the most common active ingredient in insect repellant, or 20 percent picaridin. Repellants containing permethrin can be used to treat clothing and are safe for pregnant or nursing mothers and their children. These repellants can be purchased through online retailers and local sporting goods stores.

"If you or someone you know develops sudden fever, rash, joint aches, or red, irritated eyes within two weeks of travelling to an area of ongoing Zika virus transmission, see your Navy Medicine health care provider immediately, and report your symptoms and travel history," said Cmdr. Eric Deussing, head of public health, emergency preparedness and response U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED).

As a reminder protect yourself and your home by covering exposed skin or using insect repellant, keeping all areas surrounding your home free of standing water and checking your area for any scheduled fogging and mosquito control. Protection can be the best prevention.

For the most current information about the Zika virus, please visit the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center's website at

CDC photo.