Zika Protection Is All About Finding the Right Product and Avoiding the Right Mosquito

Regardless of how hearty your constitution is, you are going to want to gear up for 2016's mosquito season. The threats that have hovered around North Texas in previous years — the West Nile and Chikungunya viruses — are back and Zika virus, the birth defect-inducing, mosquito-borne illness currently running rampant in South America, is coming.

While North Texas' county governments are going to be doing everything they can to combat mosquitoes in the area — they'll be spraying the nasty little buggers, and Tarrant County already has put out a guide to building your own mosquito-preparedness kit — it's still incumbent on all of us who plan on making it through this summer to do the best we can to protect ourselves. That means knowing what mosquito repellent to buy and what stuff is totally useless.

According to presentation made by John Carlo, Dallas County's former medical director, to the Dallas Bar Association on Wednesday exactly four active ingredients  will help keep mosquitoes from biting — DEET (diethyltoluamide), IR3535 (Ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate), picaridin and the oil of lemon eucalyptus. Nothing else, not citronella nor any of the other myriad natural repellents that don't contain oil of lemon eucalyptus, will do much to keep mosquitoes away for more than a half hour.

All four of the effective products are also recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are safe when used as directed, even for children and pregnant women. 

Avoiding the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the common carrier for Zika, is trickier than staying out of the way of the mosquito that typically carries West Nile in North Texas, Carlo said. The West Nile mosquito feeds off birds and likes to stay outside. The Zika mosquito seeks human blood as its primary sustenance and likes to stay inside.

"The Zika mosquito, a daytime biter, likes to bite inside your house and will follow you around. It likes to find an opening. It's an indoor-type of mosquito," Carlo said.

Aedes aegypti behavior, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Wednesday, makes it more difficult to kill with traditional aerial spraying, which has left the county looking for alternatives. One thing that's being considered, Jenkins said Wednesday, is making Dallas a test site for genetically modified mosquitoes made by Oxitec, a British company. Oxitec's male mosquitoes create pupae that don't survive to adulthood, potentially snuffing out Aedes aegypti's reproductive cycle.

Jenkins also expressed concerned about August's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil has been the center of the Zika outbreak and the judge wants a travel warning issued before tourists head to the country.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young