Heads up, ladies: Zika virus is sweeping the globe, and it’s coming for your babies! Okay, the alarmist portion of the program is now over. While Zika virus is marching through Central and South America, most infected people will only suffer a rash and fever.
But the scary part is that the virus is suspected to be linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly, a serious birth defect where the baby’s brain is under-developed, leading to permanent developmental disability and other health problems.
The crisis has generated panic in affected countries, such as El Salvador, where the government recently called on the entire population to avoid pregnancy for at least two years. That’s crazy talk. Babies are snuggly and cute, and fun to make! Go have some.
From whence cometh this plague? The virus is carried by the Aedes (which rhymes, fittingly, with Hades) mosquito. These mosquitos are common in the United States, especially in the Gulf region and other southern states. They have also been found, though not as frequently, throughout most of the eastern half of the United States, and all the southern border states.
Here’s the good news: the Zika virus has to infect a local Aedes population in order to create an outbreak in humans. So far, in the United States, that hasn’t happened. Our cases have been imported by travelers rather than transmitted from local mosquitos. So far (cue ominous music). The bad news is that the virus spreads fast once it’s taken root in the domestic mosquito population. Brazil’s number of suspected Zika-linked microcephaly cases spiked into the thousands last year, 20 times the normal rate.
If You Live in the South, Prepare
There’s no treatment for Zika, and no vaccine (the National Institutes of Health claims a vaccine is years away). So what’s a preggers gal to do?
The key is avoiding mosquito bites. If you’re with me in the Acela corridor, you’re buried under snow. Mosquitos can’t live in the cold, so we have a few months to get ready. If you’re in the southeast U.S., or a border state, the Aedes will be invading soon, if not already. Here’s how to get the upper hand, once temps start rising above 60 degrees or so.
1. Stay Inside
Seriously. If it’s June in Houston, your hair and makeup won’t survive a confrontation with the outdoors. If you’re pregnant on top of it all, you’ll probably pass out.
2. Use Mosquito Repellant
If you have to go outside, slather yourself with a skin repellent that contains at least 20 percent picaridin or 15 percent DEET. Picaridin doesn’t irritate the senses or melt your Fitbit or nail polish the way DEET does, so I prefer it. These chemicals are totally tested safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Now, listen up: Do not use organics, herbals, or repellents with lower concentrations of picaridin or DEET. I mean it. Re-apply neurotically, especially when sweating. Apply on top of sunscreen. But, frankly, you shouldn’t need much sunscreen if you follow No. 3.
3. Dress Appropriately
Wear long, light-colored clothing, covered shoes, and a hat. Burkas are good (only partially kidding). Mosquitos love feet and faces, upper arms and other sweaty places (when you’re pregnant, that could be everywhere). They are also attracted to dark clothing.
4. Cities Are More Dangerous
Aedes are city slickers, not rednecks, so you’ll need to take more precautions when you’re waiting for your Uber ride than sitting in a deer stand with your favorite firearm.
5. Proof Your Home
Skeeter-proof your domestic fiefdom: the only baby-making around your house should be your own. Aedes mosquitos breed in standing water, even puddles. So scour your yard (and maybe your neighbors’ yards, too) for any standing water. Get rid of potted plants, outdoor furniture cushions with indentations from buttons, even old, concave wood slats on your deck that create a small puddle when it rains (lay something smooth on top of it). Get your husband up on a ladder and clean out the gutters (“I couldn’t possibly, honey, think of the baby!”).
6. Spray Your Yard
Go to Lowe’s and look for the spray stuff you attach to a hose that says “mosquito” on the label. Spray 100 to 200 yards around your house (your neighbors will probably welcome your offer to spray their place, too).
7. Close Entry Ports
Check all your window and door screens. If you see a hole, no matter how small, it’s big enough. Replace that screen or keep that window or door closed.
8. Harness the Wind
If you’re hosting a BBQ (why are you hosting a BBQ? See No. 1), haul a big fan out to the patio and then hog it the whole time. Mosquitos are weaklings and can’t fly in the wind.
9. Avoid Bushes
Stay away from bushes. Mosquitos like to hang out in bushes for shade when it’s sunny.
10. Sacrifice the Man
Sleep with your husband, with you snug under the covers and him on top of the covers, offering himself as human sacrifice to the mosquitos, who will pick the easier target.
11. Check for Pregnancy Often
Recognizing that you’re going to be more paranoid vigilant when you know you’re pregnant, pee on those strips frequently so you can up your bug-battling game earlier in your pregnancy.
12. Don’t Travel South
Stay out of Central and South America. Just don’t go there. And if you don’t live in the Gulf region of the United States, don’t travel there unnecessarily, either. If you do live there, run for your lives! Okay, not really. Just actually follow the tips above (as opposed to what everyone else will do: share them on Facebook and then go about your business exactly as before, only now with more guilt and anxiety).
Babies with special needs are wonderful gifts from God. But so are smart, slightly neurotic, Zika-zapping moms!