Earlier this week, the World Health Organization declared the spread of Zika virus to be a global health emergency, centering on Brazil and 22 other countries and pregnant women, for the time being. Directors of camps and other organizations that bring children together and which operate in environments known to expose attendees to mosquitoes are, naturally, concerned.
What We Know
The Zika virus, contracted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes*, has no cure or vaccine, but it produces only mild symptoms—fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis—for 20% of those affected. 80% have no symptoms at all.
Contrast this to the life-threatening dengue and chikungunya viruses, which are also spread by this type of mosquito. Of course, the lack of symptoms escalates the biggest concern of Zika: the link to the serious birth defect, microencephaly, when the disease is transmitted from pregnant mothers to their infants.
The Good News for Now
While the term “global health emergency” sounds ominous and is serious, there are several reasons the declaration is good news:
- The World Health Organization’s alert will ensure early identification and quarantine of any known cases, thus slowing the spread. We can also take comfort that a longstanding problem is now being addressed, as a Bloomberg editorial notes: “Those mosquitoes also spread [deadly] dengue fever and yellow fever, plagues of poor nations that kill tens of thousands, yet until now have failed to attract the resources or attention needed to eradicate them.”
- The immediate threat is not global. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that Zika is not something most of us in the U.S. should panic about. Efforts to eradicate mosquito populations—still the best preventative step—have been underway for quite some time due to West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses. The global threat is to women who are pregnant (or could become pregnant) traveling to affected areas. (Concern has recently elevated with the threat that Zika could be sexually transmitted, as well.)
- While we may eventually see Zika cases that originate in the U.S., the virus most likely would not become epidemic. This notion is based on the fact that cases of dengue and chikungunya virus, caused by the same mosquito that transmits Zika, have occurred in the U.S., but have not become epidemic. (Source: CDC release)
- The incubation period is short-lived. The virus is self-eliminating from the bloodstream in one week.
How to Protect Your Campers
As with other mosquito-borne diseases, the best action to take to protect your campers from the Zika virus is to prevent mosquito bites. The CDC recommends:
- Remove standing water where mosquitoes may breed.
- Encourage long-sleeved shirts and long pants in areas and times of day when mosquitoes are most active.
- Use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if unable to protect from mosquito bites.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents, with active ingredients like DEET, picaridin and IR3535
+ Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
+ If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
+Additional information can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
+ DO NOT USE ON SKIN.
+ Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
+ If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
- To help prevent others from getting sick, be extra diligent to prevent mosquito bites during the first week of illnesses that share the symptoms of Zika.
Easing Parental Concerns
By camp season, the fear of Zika may be diminished, but parents will naturally be concerned about the possibility that their child could come in contact with mosquitoes. If your camp is outdoors, especially if it is near a body of water, you could even see some decline in attendance.
To alleviate concerns as registration approaches:
- Share these facts and any official updates about the virus
- Notify parents of steps you are taking to:
+ Eradicate mosquitos on your property
+ Ensure children are well protected with repellant when outdoors
+ Isolate sick children immediately and escalate mosquito-bite protection
Are you Ready?
Even without the threat of disease, mosquitoes have long driven campers crazy and prompted preventative measures. Thus, the Zika virus scare will not mean drastic measures for camps already taking precautions against mosquitos.
Those little annoyances could mean big trouble, though, so extra diligence is a must.
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