I’m happy to report that no one to date has contracted the Zika virus from the bite of a mosquito in South Carolina. But the dreaded disease continues to be a threat in the Lowcountry.
With warming temperatures and recent rains, conditions are ripe for an onslaught of the blood-sucking, disease-carrying insects.
Unfortunately, we share our beautiful coastal home with the Aedes mosquito that carries the virus. While the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is partnering with local governments to control mosquito populations, it’s important to know what you can do to help stop the spread of Zika.
The virus is primarily contracted through the bite of a mosquito, but it also can be transmitted sexually from an infected man to his partner and from a pregnant woman to her fetus.
As of mid-April, there have been 61 cases of Zika virus reported in South Carolina. Of those, 60 were travelers who contracted the disease abroad. The one other case involved a South Carolina resident who had sexual contact with someone infected while traveling in a country where Zika is a risk.
Most people with the virus never experience any of its symptoms — fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis or headache. For those who do, the symptoms are usually mild and last just a few days to a week.
But the virus poses a huge health risk to unborn babies. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect call microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. CDC researchers also have found a strong link to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder of the nervous system.
There is no vaccine or cure for the Zika virus. The best way to prevent it is by avoiding mosquito bites.
As an OB-GYN, I advise patients who are pregnant or trying to conceive to avoid traveling to countries with active Zika virus transmission. A list of affected countries can be found on the CDC’s website.
If you must go, protect yourself with mosquito repellant containing DEET, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and try to stay in air conditioned areas.
Wait at least eight weeks after returning home from a Zika-infected country to try to conceive. If your sexual partner has traveled to an area with Zika, you should wait a minimum of six months to have unprotected sex since the virus can stay in semen longer than blood.
There’s plenty you can do to reduce your risk here at home, too.
For starters, get rid of any standing water where mosquitos can lay eggs. Once a week, check receptacles in your yard that can hold water, including tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flower pot saucers and trash containers.
You should also:
- Clean out rain gutters and avoid leaving piles of leaves in your yard.
- Use insect repellant that contains DEET. When used as directed, it has been proven to be effective and safe, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
- Avoid going outside during daytime hours when Aedes mosquitoes are most likely to bite.
- Install or repair window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
Zika isn’t the only reason to avoid mosquito bites. The insects carry a wide range of other infectious diseases, from chikungunya to West Nile virus.
Enjoy your summer in the Lowcountry, but do all you can to stay safe!