Prevention

How can I protect myself?
Aedes mosquito - zika virus prevention

This photograph depicts a female Aedes aegypti mosquito while in the process of acquiring a blood meal from her human host. (Photo by James Gathany)

There is no vaccine for the virus yet, so all preventive measures should be focused on preventing mosquito bites. This means eliminating standing water and other mosquito breeding sites, as well as using mosquito screens in windows and using appropriate insect repellents when outdoors. People returning from areas with Zika transmission or who otherwise think they could be infected should use condoms to avoid infecting their sexual partners.

What ingredients should my repellent include?

To combat the mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus, look for repellents with either 25 percent DEET or 20 percent Picardin. (Products that use “natural” ingredients— such as soybean oil, geraniol or citronella—haven’t been shown to be effective.) Still, don’t go above 30 percent DEET; it won’t give you any additional mosquito protection, and you may be more likely to have side effects that include a rash or seizures. You can also consider wearing clothing that has been treated with permethrin.

Why isn’t there a vaccine? When might one be available?

Until recently, Zika virus wasn’t thought to be of major concern, so scientists weren’t focused on creating a vaccine. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the beginning of a clinical trial for a possible Zika vaccine that has shown promise in animal models. However, a commercially available vaccine is probably still several years away.

What steps can local or state groups take against the mosquito?

The mosquito can breed in standing water as small as what is contained in a bottle cap and the eggs can survive even without water for months. The adult mosquito tends to be very resistant to traditional pesticides. All of these factors make this a very difficult insect to control.

Are there any less traditional mosquito eradication efforts underway?

Scientists are working on genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes that could lead to a massive reduction in the total mosquito population. These GM mosquitoes breed with the ones in the wild to produce offspring that die before reaching adulthood. This idea is not without controversy, however, as proposals involving genetically modified organisms often are.

If Zika virus can be sexually transmitted, are contraceptives important?

Barrier contraceptives like condoms are vitally important for preventing the spread of the disease. Other types of contraceptives, such as hormonal birth control pills provide no protection against contracting Zika, but they’re still important because most of the Zika complications affect children whose mothers had Zika while they were pregnant.