Preventing Zika

Preparedness & Action

By Richard Westlund / Special to UM News 

As Miami heads into the summer, rainy season and potentially another season of locally-transmitted cases of Zika, preventing mosquito bites and taking other precautions will significantly reduce Zika infection.

Paola Lichtenberger, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Medicine and Director of Tropical Diseases at the University of Miami Health System and Miller School of Medicine advises people to take the following steps to prevent Zika transmission.

  • Use an insect a repellant that is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (DEET 20%, Picardin, Oil of Eucalyptus, IR3535) on any exposed skin.
  • Do not use Insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.
  • Do not use Oil of Eucalyptus on babies younger than 3 years old.
  • Protect newborns and babies younger than two months with mosquito nets on the crib and strollers.
  • Dress small children with clothing that covers arms and legs.
  • Drain all standing water in your yard on a weekly basis, or add a larvacide if that’s not possible.
  • Use condoms if you are a man who had Zika virus over the past 6 months or if you had been traveling to endemic areas or if you are a women and had confirmed Zika over the past 2 months or has been traveling to an area that is an endemic area of Zika.
  • Wear fresh long sleeves and long pants.
  • Take steps to control mosquitos inside of your home by using screens on windows and doors if your house does not have air conditioning system.

“You don’t want mosquitoes to breed near your home,” said Lichtenberger. “And because the Zika virus may also be transmitted through sexual intercourse, couples should have condoms on hand to make sure the virus is not passed to the pregnant partner.”

If infected by Zika during pregnancy, the virus could cause severe brain defects in the fetus/newborn including microcephaly and problems with vision and hearing. In adults, it can also cause Guillian-Barre, a temporary paralysis and uncommonly inflammation of the brain.

Only 20 percent of people who have been infected will experiences symptoms such as rash, fever, joint pain, red eyes and muscle pain.

If someone suspects that they have contracted Zika, they should contact their primary care physician or the emergency room/Urgent care center, or a tropical/travel medicine expert says Lichtenberger, who plays a vital role in diagnosing and treating patients with vector borne illness and other tropical diseases at the University of Miami Health Care System.

With her extensive knowledge of tropical medicine, she also educates the broader South Florida health community on emerging viruses, and provides trainings for area health workers in collaboration with governmental agencies, such as the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Most physicians who are trained in the United States don’t have a lot of experience in tropical diseases,” she said. “Zika is here to stay in South Florida’s subtropical climate and we want to make sure that local physicians are aware of these mosquito-borne threats and can contact our team if necessary.”

Lichtenberger is also watching closely for signs of other mosquito-borne tropical diseases, such as dengue, malaria, dengue, Chagas, chikungunya and yellow fever that could surface in South Florida, particularly Miami, if they are on the rise in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For more information on Zika including prevention, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

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