5 Tips to Protect Yourself From Zika Virus

Health Professional

Attention snowbirds, holiday travelers, and people who just aren’t ready to ditch their flip-flops

Fall and winter are not without their benefits. These times of the year afford brisk walks without the incessant need to slap away flying nuisances. Mosquito season blissfully comes to an end, and the fear of bites drops to zero.

However, if you are looking to travel to warmer climes, don’t be complacent. With warnings of the Zika virus continuing in the news, it is best to prepared. Especially if your fun adventure falls in or near a Zika virus hot zone.

In an email interview, Joseph M. Conlon, a medical entomologist and spokesperson for the American Mosquito Control Association, shares with us steps we can take to protect ourselves during holiday travels.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have already been 4,780 travel-associated Zika infections (let’s increase to current number, 4432.)in the U.S., and that number is likely to increase. So how best can you protect yourself and enjoy your vacation? Don’t stress — the experts have weighed in below about the best spray and non-spray options that will help you win the war against mosquitoes.

1. Over-the-counter bug spray

When it comes to spray, not all brands are created equal. Consumer Reports found that products containing 20 percent picaridin, or 25 percent DEET, were the most effective. So which to use? According to the CDC, repellents containing DEET offer the best protection against mosquito bites. However, picaridin is deemed less toxic. DEET does not pose a health risk if it is applied according to label specifications using the formulations advised by the CDC of 25-35 percent concentration.

2. Specially-treated clothing

“The military has been using clothing impregnated with a repellent called permethrin for decades, and the technology—called Insect Shield—is EPA-registered and available to consumers,” says Conlon.

He notes that the consumer version lasts for about 70 washings and is also highly effective against ticks. Insect Shield sells its clothing online, and you can also send in your own clothing to them to be treated. The technology is also widely available — embedded in other manufacturer’s clothing. Permethrin can also be purchased in a spray format to use to treat your own clothing. There have been no heart health issues associated with the wearing of permethrin-impregnated clothing.

3. Herbs and essential oils

Essential oils — including citronella, rose geranium, and lemon — also can be effective for repelling insects. Just mix these oils with water and use in a spray bottle. Another option is chewing on plants or eating foods in the Allium family. Wild leeks and chives, which emit a pungent odor that insects don’t like, are effective as well. So is garlic! Don’t hold back on that garlicky Italian dinner — it just might help ward off the mosquitoes. Not only will essential oils help repel insects, many also have heart health benefits, such as anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties.

4. Light-colored clothing and gear

Whether it’s a tent, sleeping bag, or clothes, pick light colors. Mosquitoes like dark colors, and can often bite through fabric. Instead, wear clothes in white, beige, or light khaki colors, and choose these colors for camping and hiking gear (tents and duffel bags). Always remember to wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and socks at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

5. Sunscreen and repellant combo

Wearing sunscreen with bug repellent mixed in can be a smart and easy way to ward off mosquitoes, but you don't want to overdo it. Instead of applying it all day, save a combo sunscreen for late afternoon, when you’re ready to apply your last dose of for the day.

“During the day you should be applying sunscreen frequently, but you don’t want to apply DEET or even natural repellents more often than is recommended,” says Conlon.

Instead, he advises using two different products — regular sunscreen for daytime, and then a combo sunscreen for the end of day.


One final piece of advice: Look for a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number — usually on the back label — on any repellent you’re considering buying. To get it, a product has to undergo extensive testing for safety and effectiveness. “If it hasn’t been EPA-registered,” says Conlon, “I would not use it.”

Many of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes can place additional stress on the heart as part of the disease process. Thus, it’s important to reduce the risk of acquiring these diseases by taking the necessary precautions such as dressing properly and using an EPA-registered repellent.

Lisa Nelson is a dietitian/nutritionist with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and heart disease. She guides clients to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels through practical diet and lifestyle changes. Learn more and sign up to receive How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits at http://lisanelsonrd.com.