Zika Virus

Just in time for my first trip to South America, along comes a new disease to worry about. Or at least talk about, if you work for the media on a slow news day! Zika sounds like it should be the name of some Amazon priestess, not a lowly virus transmitted by mosquitoes. Or by sex, which is even tougher to control.

At present the Center for Disease Control has not listed Argentina or Chile as countries with cases of Zika, and those happen to be the two countries I’ll be visiting. Also, it really would make some health headlines if the ladies travelling with us found themselves pregnant, so birth defects aren’t a worry. But I’m not going to ignore the possibility of encountering some mosquitoes which are unaware of the CDC’s boundaries.

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Ten years ago I celebrated my retirement by travelling to Panama, and I took anti-malarial drugs for a couple of weeks beforehand as a precaution. I had a great time and no repercussions, but less than a week after our return a friend who went along came down with dengue fever. He was comatose for several days and we almost lost him. There’s a good chance that he picked that up from a “chitra”, a small biting midge that we would call a “no-see-um” if encountered on a Canadian fishing trip.

I wish I was at risk for Zika from sex, but I’d rate my chances at that as slim to none. And since I’m male there’s no worry of birth defects for my offspring. . .one would think. However, the ugly little fact is that mosquitoes don’t just give us malaria…. we can give it to them.

Many folks infected with Zika may be unaware of it, since the symptoms of aching joints, red eyes, and mild fever are anything but unique. It’s just conceivable that I could pick up Zika in South America, infect some local mosquitoes which have the poor taste to bite me back here, and then they could pass the disease along to my daughter. Who happens to be expecting a child in June.

Aedes Egyptii is the mosquito species we’re trying to avoid, but it won’t be easy. Unlike most mosquitoes this one is active in broad daylight, and it’s just as happy in cities as in woods or swamps. Since I’ll be a visitor my options are pretty much limited to repellents and protective clothing.

It’s summer down there, so long sleeves and pants won’t be very comfortable. Repellents haven’t changed much in since I retired, with one exception. Picardin is a new ingredient that is rated about as effective as DEET, without DEET’s occasional side effects of scorching your skin or melting your sunglasses. We’ll be taking some of both, but the DEET will just go on clothing, not skin.

Another couple on our trip purchased clothing that’s treated with permethrin, an insecticide that’s particularly effective against ticks. We will wear some wristbands that are infused with lemongrass oil and citronella oil, and are supposed to remain effective for longer than we’ll be down there. If we find our repellents dripping off after a torrid tango, at least the bands will still be with us.

About the Author
Pete Lane was the OSU Extension agent in Montgomery County from 1976 thru 2005. During that time he frequently wrote columns for the Dayton Daily News and did daily morning “Farm Reports” on WHIO.

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