Zebras and Zika Virus, Who Knew???​

Just when you thought you could enjoy summer and not worry anymore about West Nile Virus, along comes Zika.

As we become more mobile, so do the mosquito-borne viruses. For decades, we in the US, have been spared things like malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, encephalitis, and more. Travel to mosquito-friendly environments is now something we have to be concerned about, as well as those unwanted and unbeknownst “souvenirs” fellow travelers may bring back.

According to the CDC, the US is at very low risk for Zika to become endemic or epidemic in the US.  Southern states are most at risk. However, weather patterns aren’t warm enough for mosquitoes to survive winter in the South. Screens and A/C, control exposure to mosquitoes during warm weather.

If those warm Caribbean beaches or tropical paradises call to you, here are some precautions to take to help minimize the chance of you contracting Zika. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. 

DEET—an ingredient first developed in 1944 for use by the U.S. Army is one of the most effective anti-bug bite chemicals and is available in most insect repellents. Even though most people who use DEET, don’t experience any adverse side effects, "Miss Organic and I Avoid as Many Chemicals as Possible", would prefer other alternatives.

This is Where the Zebras Come in; Wear Stripes. 

On safari, you might notice all the animals (including humans) being bothered by flies, mosquitoes and other biting insects.  Yet herds of Zebras are not even swishing their tails. As a guide explains, the zebras' black ­and­ white stripes play optical illusion with mosquitoes, making it too confusing for the critters to land and bite. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology found that stripes attract fewer flies than solid colors and the most effective stripe patterns were those similar in width to the zebras’. Horseflies have limited abilities to see polarized light. Conjecture is the vertical stripes on a zebra confuse the fly's brain and stop it from seeing the animal. Start shopping for stripes.

Insect Repellent Clothing. ExOfficio and Insect Shield sell clothing and accessories made from fabrics coated in permethrin—an insect­ repelling, tick­ killing chemical that has few known side effects.  Permethrin is listed in the World Health Organization's Model Lists of Essential Medicines for both Adults and Children. If you don’t want to invest in new clothes or the styles don’t appeal, you can soak your own clothes in permethrin for a few hours or spray it on before going out.  I don’t know what effect it may have on fabrics, so read all the labels before you try this.

Picaridin and Lemon Eucalyptus Oil. Consumer Reports found a combination of Picaridin and lemon eucalyptus oil outperformed DEET in keeping mosquitoes away. Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour were the only ones that also kept Culex mosquitoes (West Nile disease) and deer ticks (Lyme disease), away for at least 8 hours.

Wear Woven Nylon or Polyester Clothing. A non­chemical way to avoid mosquito bites is an impenetrable barrier between your skin and a bug's probuscis. Woven nylon or polyester clothing is best.  Knits are easy for mosquitoes to bite through.

Bounce Dryer Sheets. A 2010 study published in horticultural journal HortSci concluded that Bounce was particularly effective in keeping fungus gnats at bay: "Based on the results from our study, under laboratory conditions, Bounce fabric softener dryer sheets do in fact repel B.sp. nr. Coprophilia adults." (fungus gnat). Worth a try, at least you’ll smell nice.

Carry a Fan. Low­ tech, but effective, is air movement. Fanning yourself while spending time outdoors discourages insects from landing and biting.  Added benefit, it helps keep you cool.

Build a Smudge Fire. Around a campfire or beach bonfire add insect repellent herbs like lavender, citronella, mint, sage, and lemon balm to a smoky fire to help keep bugs away.

And if this is all too much, there is always Iceland.