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Responder News: Resources for Countering the Zika Virus

Responder News: Resources for Countering the Zika Virus

Release Date: 
March 21, 2016

The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus as an international public health emergency. The virus is primarily caused by bites from Aedes mosquitoes. People with Zika virus disease usually exhibit symptoms that can include mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, or headache. These symptoms may last for two to seven days.

A close up of a mosquito that carries the Zika virus.As no vaccine is currently available, protection from mosquito bites is the best course of action. To date, the virus has been known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies are working in close conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security to counteract the Zika virus.

The CDC offers information on how to properly identify the Aedes mosquitoes, the known carriers of the virus. There is also a concise CDC guide to Zika and dangers posed to pregnant women. Some important facts in the pregnancy guide include what is known and unknown about the virus, the symptoms of Zika, travel warning maps and information on prevention. The CDC also outlines essential items for a prevention kit.

How can first responders protect themselves from becoming infected with Zika?

  • Wear long sleeved shirts and slacks.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - registered insect repellants. All EPA-registered insect repellants are evaluated for safety and effectiveness.
  • Reapply insect repellant as directed.
  • Do not spray repellant on the skin under clothing.
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellant.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated items.
  • Whenever possible, stay in a screened area, avoid standing water and practice other common sense mosquito-control strategies, on and off the job.

When interacting with individuals who could possibly be infected, take caution to inquire about recent travel to endemic areas and notify responding emergency medical personnel. 

Following standard infectious disease procedures, such as avoiding contact with blood or other bodily fluids and using basic infection control procedures (including vigorous handwashing and wearing/disposing protective gloves and clothing), is important for any type of emergency response situation.

Little is known about the Zika virus and as information becomes available, practice recommendations may change. For now, it is recommended that first responders review basic infection control procedures, proper body substance isolation and disinfection procedures.

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