Summer of Zika – Prevention and Preparedness

Me & My OBGJuly 10, 2016Articles, Hear from Our Doctors

Summer is here and so is our favorite blood-sucking friend – the MOSQUITO!! Mosquitos are a normal summertime nuisance, but this summer they come with increased concern.

The Zika virus, transmitted by certain types of mosquitos, was once thought to be an insignificant pathogen. However, today, it has generated global concern for its association with a rare birth defect called microcephaly, which literally means “small head.” Some babies, who are developing in their mother’s womb, have developed a smaller than normal head and underdeveloped brains when their mothers have been infected with the Zika virus. There is also the risk of fetal loss as a result of Zika.

Most people with Zika have no symptoms at all and the remaining 20 percent have mild, symptoms like a summer cold that resolve in around seven days. While there have been around 500 cases of Zika in pregnant women in the United States, none of these cases so far have occurred from mosquitos found here in the U.S. They have only occurred after visits to other countries where the infected mosquitos are found.

The specific types of mosquito that transmit the Zika virus are the Aedes egypti and Aedes albopictus. Both are found throughout Texas. Over time, we expect that the mosquitos here may also carry the virus.

Texas public health leaders are actively working to prepared for any cases that may develop here. On June 20, the Texas Department of State Health Services released a formal “Zika Virus Preparedness and Response Plan.” And on July 6, the State of Texas, in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hosted the State of Texas Active Response to Zika (STARZ) conference in McAllen, to formally align state resources related to the potential of a locally generated outbreak.

In the end, prevention starts with each one of us. Take these precautions to minimize exposure to mosquitos:

  • Remove standing water from your yards and neighborhoods, as it can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitos.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants as a barrier against bites.
  • Avoid being outdoors from dusk to dawn, when mosquitos that can carry Zika are most active.
  • Most importantly, use mosquito repellents regularly.

More than 30 percent of the U.S. population uses mosquito repellent. The CDC strongly recommends using mosquito repellents approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), such as DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Using permethrin-coated clothing also is recommended.

Studies have shown that DEET is the most effective of all synthetic and biosynthetic agents in preventing mosquito bites. DEET doesn’t kill mosquitos, it blocks their ability to locate a victim to bite. DEET has been shown to be safe for use during pregnancy, when used according to recommended dosing.

The CDC recommends using mosquito repellents with 20 percent to 30 percent DEET for best protection. Repellents containing higher doses of DEET doesn’t increase protection but just add to the length of time the repellent works.. DEET can be used with sunscreen, but should be applied on top of sunscreen, although it may slightly decrease the sunscreen’s effectiveness, so reapply the sunscreen more often.

Importantly, no adverse outcomes have been associated with DEET repellents in pregnancy. Using DEET repellent is also safe for children 2 months of age and older.

So the take home message is the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There is no vaccine for Zika infection and there is no known treatment that prevents the potential development of microcephaly in a developing baby. And while national, state and local efforts are underway for mosquito surveillance and eradication, personal efforts to prevent mosquito bites with all possible measures, including regular use of mosquito repellents, is essential.

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Dr. RamseyDr. Patrick S. Ramsey is a Professor and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio

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