4 Ways To Lower Your Zika Risk This Summer, Because The Threat Is Real
by Jenn Rose

By now, we all know that the best way to avoid contracting the Zika virus is to avoid being bitten by the Aedes egypti mosquito that carries it (as well as dengue and chikungunya viruses). Over the last few months, that hasn't been much of an issue for U.S. women, as the mosquito is native to warmer climates in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Canceling your February vacation to Jamaica is a bummer, but it's preferable to contracting an illness that can lead to severe, even fatal birth defects. In addition to coating yourself in bug spray this summer, there are a few other ways you can protect yourself from Zika virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expect Aedes egypti and its cousin, Aedes albopictus to migrate to the U.S. during the warmer months. And it's not just Texans and Floridians who need to worry; Aedes egypti is expected to travel as far north as Connecticut, and Aedes albopictus, which can survive in cooler climates, could make it all the way up to Maine. Though the CDC has said that Aedes albopictus are less likely to spread Zika, that doesn't mean they won't, so it's time for everyone to up their mosquito game. This is important even if you're not pregnant or planning to become pregnant, because Zika can be sexually transmitted, and it can also be spread if a mosquito bites an infected person and then goes on to bite someone else. Staying Zika-free is a community effort. Here's how to do it.

Use Personal Insect Repellent

Ashley Henderson, Brand Manager at Spectrum Brands, manufacturers of Cutter, Repel, and Hot Shot tells Romper that there are a variety of CDC-recommended mosquito repellents, and choosing one is a matter of personal preference. DEET and picaridin both work by confusing mosquitoes' sense of smell. If they can't smell you, they won't bite you. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, the only naturally-derived mosquito repellent recommended by the CDC, works by literally repelling the bugs; they don't like the smell, so they'll stay away from you. The CDC cautions that only EPA-registered products containing "OLE" or "PMD" are recommended; “pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus, an essential oil, has not been tested or registered and is not recommended.

...And Use It Correctly

Think hard: have you ever actually read the label on your bug spray? I always assumed I knew what I was doing, until Henderson mentioned rubbing it in. Yes, my whole life, I've been spritzing my limbs and then thinking I was protected without rubbing the repellent in. And yes, I get bitten all summer, every summer. Until now, I just assumed that I was just too delicious for the bugs to pass up, but now I know that I'm just a dope who didn't bother to read the can first. Whether you use a lotion, wipe, pump spray, or aerosol repellent, read the directions carefully. Cover any exposed skin (long pants and long sleeves are always best, if it's cool enough) and make sure you don't miss a spot, because if you do, the mosquitoes will find it.

Protect Your Yard

Once the weather is warm, I spend as much time as possible in my backyard. Unfortunately, so do mosquitoes. When I'm hosting a cookout, I always make sure to spray down my yard in advance. There are foggers available that can kill all the bugs on your patio if you're just out there for the evening, but you can also purchase a long-acting spray that attaches to your hose and covers the whole lawn, protecting it for up to 12 weeks (yes, even after it rains). Of course, your first line of defense should be making your property look less attractive to mosquitoes to begin with, which means getting rid of any standing water. And I'm not just talking about rain barrels and birth baths; if a few drops of rain end up in an upturned bottle cap in your yard, that's an instant mosquito birthing suite. So keep it tight!

Don't Forget Indoor Protection

Make no mistake, mosquitoes are evil creatures who will stop at nothing to suck your blood. You can't hide indoors all summer, because they absolutely will follow you inside. Be sure to repair any holes in your screens, and fill in any cracks around your windows or doors. If they still manage to sneak in, though (and they will), there is something you can do about it, and it doesn't involve covering your house with a circus tent and skipping town for a week. Just mist Hot Shot Flying Insect Killer around and take your kids and animals into another room for 15 minutes. It'll keep killing mosquitoes and other flying intruders for up to four weeks, and it doesn't even smell gross.

Once you've got your body, the indoors, and the outdoors covered, the mosquitoes will have a much harder time finding your sweet, sweet blood. And remember, although the threat of Zika is lighting a fire under our collective butts this year, we should really be taking these steps every year, because mosquitoes can also carry West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, and a whole bunch of other unpleasant diseases. Plus, mosquito bites just plain suck.