The United States will see an increasing number of travel-related cases of the Zika virus, as the epidemic that is ravaging Brazil continues to spread, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
Among them will likely be pregnant women, the population most vulnerable to the devastating affects of the virus.
“I wish we knew more about Zika today, I wish we could do more about Zika today,” said CDC Directer Tom Frieden in a morning press conference. “It’s a new phenomenon.”
More cases expected in the U.S.
Frieden said the U.S. should “expect a lot more travel related cases” as the weeks and months go by. This of particular concern as mosquito season approaches across the Deep South. The virus is spread by two kinds of mosquitoes typically found in the region.
Frieden offered his strongest comments yet about the link between the insect-borne virus and the birth defect, microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and cognitive problems. He said tests on fetal brain tissue have showed the presence of the virus, but it’s unclear at what point in a pregnancy a fetus can be infected with Zika.
In the coming months, as children are born to women who may have traveled to the affected Caribbean and South American regions early in their pregnancies, more cases of microcephaly will likely appear in other countries, he said.
“We’re not aware of any other mosquito-borne disease with such devastating outcomes” of birth defects, Frieden said. “It’s scary for women who are pregnant or are considering pregnancy.”
New recommendations from the CDC
The CDC is now advising any man who has travel to one of the affected countries, to use condoms during all sexual encounters with their pregnant partner for the duration of the pregnancy. Either wear a latex condom during vaginal, oral or anal sex, or abstain from sex completely, the new guidelines suggest.
On Friday the agency recommended any pregnant woman who has traveled to one if the affected countries be tested for the presence of the virus between two to 12 weeks of her return home. And no pregnant woman should travel to any of the affected countries while she is pregnant.
While women who think they may have been exposed to the virus should get tested, Frieden admitted that testing kits for the virus are in short supply and will not be available at the offices of most health care providers.
“Not everyone who wants a test will be able to get it but we’re working as fast as we can,” Frieden said. “We’re rolling out test kits to distribute.”
Pregnant women will be first to receive them.
The CDC already has teams of epidemiologists in Brazil working with doctors there. More CDC teams are going next week and will be deployed to other areas where the disease is taking hold.
Several news outlets reported on Friday that Brazilian researchers, where the outbreak began, have found traces of the virus not only in semen, but urine and saliva. Frieden said he had not yet seen that research and was cautious about the report.
“We have no data to support urine or saliva,” transmission at this point, Frieden said.
The virus departs the blood within a week leaving antibodies to the virus. Because only one in five people have symptoms of the virus, tests try to detect those antibodies to determine exposure. Researchers have yet to determine how long it persists in semen.
Apart from condoms and abstinence, Frieden said the best way to protect against the disease is to avoid mosquito bites. And as temperatures and mosquito populations rise, municipalities will have to examine their mosquito abatement policies, he added.
3 things to know to protect yourself against Zika
According to a new report from Consumer Reports, "The CDC emphasizes that avoiding mosquito bites requires multiple strategies, such as wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts when outdoors. But it says that mosquito repellents are essential, too."
“Using an insect repellent is one of the best ways you can protect yourself from Zika and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes," Harry Savage, chief of ecology and entomology activity at the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, told CR.
And Consumer Reports' tests found that "some repellents worked much better than others at protecting against the type of mosquitoes that transmit Zika."
1. What NOT to use
Consumer Reports recommends skipping products made with natural plant oils. Here's why: None lasted for more than 1 hour against Aedes mosquitoes, and some failed almost immediately. In addition, those products are not registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates skin-applied repellents and evaluates them for safety and effectiveness.
2. Use the right repellent
Repellents with 30% deet: CR's tests show that repellents with concentrations of 30% deet provide the same protection against mosquitoes as higher percentages for up to 8 hours. But do not use these products on infants younger than two months.
Women who are pregnant or breast feeding can safely use deet, picaridin, lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535, according to the EPA, if they are applied properly.
Here are the products recommended by Consumer Reports:
- Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula Picaridin
- Repel Lemon Eucalyptus
- Repel Scented Family
- Natrapel 8 Hour
- Off! Deepwoods Vlll
See the full list of repellent products tested by Consumer Reports here.
3. Know how to apply repellent
Here are tips from the EPA on how to use insect repellent effectively:
- Apply repellents only to exposed skin or clothing—never put it on under clothing. Use just enough to cover and only for as long as needed; heavy doses don’t work better.
- Don’t apply mosquito repellents over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin or immediately after shaving.
- When applying to your face, spray first on your hands, then rub in, avoiding your eyes and mouth, and using sparingly around ears.
- Don’t let young children apply. Instead, put it on your own hands, then rub it on. Limit use on children’s hands, because they often put their hands in their eyes and mouths.
- Don’t use near food, and wash hands after application and before eating or drinking.
- At the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water, and wash treated clothing in a separate wash before wearing again.
Read more: How to prevent Zika virus
The Atlanta Journal Constitution contributed to this article.