Zika Virus: Prevention is Key

L to R: Katie White, Meg Mirivel, Marisha DiCarlo and Kitaen Jones

Photography by Sara Reeves | Hair & Makeup by Kakki Jones with Beauty & Style by Kakki

Marisha DiCarlo, director of health communications at the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), says that although it has been around since 1947, the Zika virus only gained national recognition about two years ago when it was introduced to the Western hemisphere.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noticed how swiftly the Zika virus spread throughout Brazil and the effects it had on babies—namely, microcephaly, a birth defect that results in a smaller head and an underdeveloped brain. In response, the CDC hosted a summit in Atlanta to assess the domestic risks for Americans and devise a strategic action plan.

Arkansas is considered a “priority state” because the Aedes mosquito, thought to be prevalent throughout the state, transmits the Zika virus.

To date, all Arkansas cases of Zika have been travel-related, meaning no local transmission has yet been reported. “For us at the ADH, prevention is key,” Marisha says.

Preventing the Zika virus from spreading until an effective vaccine becomes available – which, Marisha says, is still at least a few years away – is a community effort. Everyone can be an ardent advocate and take precautionary measures to protect themselves and their families. The communications team at the ADH shares their personal insight and relatable tips.

Marisha DiCarlo, PhD, Director:  “Zika is primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, so the best way to prevent Zika is to prevent mosquito bites. Families can prepare for their summer vacations by packing an EPA-regulated insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.”

Meg Mirivel, Public Information Officer: “Zika is linked to serious birth defects like microcephaly—a defect that causes incomplete brain development. Pregnant women should not travel to areas where Zika virus is active. If travel is necessary, talk to your healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent infection. If your partner has traveled to an infected area, use protection for the duration of your pregnancy to prevent sexual transmission.”

Kitaen Jones, Internal Communications Coordinator: “Returning travelers infected with Zika can spread the virus. Many people infected with Zika will never have symptoms, so it is important for all travelers returning from Zika affected areas to take measures to prevent mosquito bites for 3 weeks after their trip.”

Katie White, Social Media Coordinator: “Many Arkansans think of tropical destinations when planning for summer trips. Honeymooners and travelers should know before they go if their destination is affected by ongoing Zika transmission.”

According to Marisha, one of the biggest challenges health professionals face is a lack of public awareness. She and her team hope that taking strict measures to prevent mosquito bites will become as regular a practice as putting on sunscreen.  Everyone knows the consequences of sunburns and how it can affect them personally, but because the Zika virus isn’t as much of a recognized health risk, mosquito bites may not seem as big of a concern.

The ADH encourages individuals to use the EPA-registered insect repellents listed above, though repellents should not be used on babies younger than 2 months old, and parents should not apply products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old. Marisha says, “We want people to have the best information possible to make informed decisions for themselves and their families.”

Arkansas Department of Health: www.healthy.arkansas.gov 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/zika

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