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Yes, You Still Have to Care About Zika This Summer

Photograph by Twenty20

This time last year, as spring warmed to summer, all we ever heard on the news were scary stories about the Zika virus and how it was slowly making its way onto to U.S. shores. Black-and-white photographs appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the faces of children born to mothers who contracted the virus in Brazil prominent and heartbreaking.

Pregnant women, and those trying to conceive, paid very close attention.

We haven't heard much about Zika this spring and, only occasionally, do we see updates on the children and women the 2016 outbreak most deeply affected. But Zika is still around, still a thing and something pregnant women and women thinking about trying to get pregnant should take seriously. Mothers to young children, too.

Experts have learned a lot since last year's crisis. Here’s what you need to know about the Zika virus in the upcoming months and what you can do to protect yourself and your kids.

The facts:

1. There is still no vaccine for Zika, though one is currently being tested in Austria as of April of this year.

2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of Zika include “fever, rash, headache, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain.”

3. These symptoms are typically mild in adults but increase in severity the younger the child, which is what makes it particularly dangerous to pregnant women.

4. Because Zika is one of the few viruses that mosquitos can transmit to their eggs, it is unclear how much impact winter has had on stemming the virus.

In the heat of the summer it’s nice to get some fresh air moving through the house. Just make sure you have some sort of screen to let the breeze in and keep the bugs out.

5. Because both Florida and Texas had reported outbreaks in 2016, those states are the ones that should be on the highest watch list for 2017, according to Ira Longini, a professor at University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Medicine.

In light of these facts, and because doctors and scientists are still feeling their way around this new virus, here are some preventative measures you can take to protect your family in the upcoming warmer weather:

1. Buy and use bug spray.

We are the family in the car on the way to the barbecue with 10 half-empty cans in the garage at home. Stash some in your car, on your deck, in the pool bag and the medicine cabinet. You’re more likely to use it if you can get to it easily.

2. Make sure you have screens on windows and doors.

In the heat of the summer it’s nice to get some fresh air moving through the house. Just make sure you have some sort of screen to let the breeze in and keep the bugs out.

3. Limit being outside when bugs are at their peak.

Dusk—around the time the sun sets—is when mosquitos really like to come out to play. Get all the kids’ energy out earlier in the day and then take a break for suppertime.

4. Cover arms and legs with light layers.

Buy swimsuits with rash guards and wear sleeves and pants if you’re going to be eating outdoors or out and about in unmown grass.

Treat your yard for mosquitos and/or get traps.

5. Empty standing water around your house.

Clear the gutters, the bird bath and half-tipped kiddie pool. Little pools of stagnant water are where mosquitos love to lay their eggs.

6. Treat your yard for mosquitos and/or get traps.

My grandma called them “bug-zappers” because that’s exactly what they did. Get a couple of those for the deck or patio and treat the lawn with a insect repellant.

Summer is all about freedom to play and eat ice cream on the front stoop and spend all afternoon by the pool. That should not change for your family because of Zika. But it does provide the opportunity to take the steps necessary to make it a fun and safe summer on all fronts.

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