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Mosquitoes and Zika virus: What you should know

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

Mosquito season is just around the corner for us here in Minnesota. Most of us know the drill when mosquitoes arrive; wear protective clothes and use repellents to protect ourselves from these biting menaces.

There is added concern this summer as we not only worry about mosquitoes but are also anxious about the Zika virus (Zika). Zika has been talked about a lot in the media especially with the upcoming summer Olympics in Brazil. People want to know whether they are at risk here and what can they do to protect themselves.

Fortunately, the threat of Zika in Minnesota right now is negligible. In fact Zika has not been found locally in any state in the U.S so far. However, the potential does exist for the virus to be a problem in this country. The mosquito primarily associated with transmitting Zika, the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is found in the southern and eastern areas of the U.S. but is not known in Minnesota. A second species, the Asian tiger mosquito, A. albopictus, has also been implicated in transmission of Zika; it too is found in warmer areas of the country but is not established in Minnesota.
Yellow fever mosquito, the primary vector of Zika virus.
Photo: Unknown

The biggest risk to Minnesotans are to those that travel to countries where Zika is known to be present - primarily South and Central America into Mexico as well as some areas of the Caribbean. There have been 17 cases of Minnesotans contracting Zika due to travel to these areas.

Fortunately in most cases, the symptoms of Zika are mild and many people may not even realize they were ever infected. The symptoms people do experience are usually fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). This illness normally lasts for several days to a week after they have been bitten by an infected mosquito.

However, a more important concern is the potential for pregnant women to become infected. Zika can be passed on from the mother to the fetus. There is increasing evidence that there is a link between Zika and microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with heads and brains smaller than expected. There is even additional evidence that infected men can sexually transmit Zika to woman. Additionally, there is a link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome

The current range of the yellow fever mosquito in the U.S.
and the potential risk for major U.S. cities.  Photo: NASA
If you are staying put in Minnesota and not traveling out of the state, your risk to Zika is extremely minimal. Protect yourself from mosquitoes as you would normally. Keep in mind that there is a risk of other mosquito transmitted diseases in Minnesota, such as west Nile virus.

If you are planning an international trip, be aware of where Zika is found and take the proper precautions if you visit such a country. Presently, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika but there are steps you can take to help prevent mosquito bites. Use personal protection, including long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and repellents, like DEET. Be sure to protect yourself during the day as that is when mosquitoes that transmit Zika are active.

If you are a pregnant woman protect yourself against mosquitoes in Zika risk areas. Practice safe sex to protect against potentially passing on Zika to her from her partner by correctly using condoms during any sexual activity. Abstaining from sex is the safest option to protect against Zika.

For more information about Zika, see the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention website.
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