Could your child return home from summer camp with Zika?
Posted June 21, 2016
No mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been found in the U.S. yet, but with children descending on summer camps across the country, there's renewed interest in how to protect them from mosquito bites.
As NPR reported, camp administrators are stressing the need for insect repellent, particularly in the South, where the type of mosquito associated with Zika is plentiful.
So far, there are 691 known cases of Zika in the U.S., but everyone infected got it through travel or sexual relations, not through Aedes aegypti mosquitoes on American soil. But that's not to say it won't happen, and some scientists say it's inevitable. The World Health Organization has called Zika an international public-health emergency, and there have been calls for the Summer Olympics to be postponed or moved because of its prevalence in Brazil.
Although Zika can cause birth defects when contracted by pregnant women, and has also been linked to a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome, most people who get it suffer short-term fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. In fact, the symptoms are oftens so mild that developing babies can be harmed by an infected mother who doesn't even know she's sick, the CDC says.
Scientists don't know, however, how long the virus lingers, and "it's possible that summer mosquito bites could someday cause the virus to be spread later by sexually active teens," science writer Natalie Jacewicz reported for NPR's Shots.
Children and teens who go to summer camps are particularly vulnerable because they spend so much time outdoors. "If you've got a kid in summer camp, they're wearing shorts or they're wearing swimsuits when they're outside," ecologist Todd Livdahl of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, told Jacewicz.
So what should campers be packing?
The CDC's guidelines for Zika prevention suggest wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and treating clothing and gear with permethrin, a type of insecticide that's generally considered safe (unless you eat it).
According to the University of Rhode Island's Tick Encounter Resource Center, you can treat clothes by either spraying them with permethrin, or soaking them. You can also buy clothes that are already treated, which the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe, even for pregnant and nursing women.
Otherwise, campers should bring insect repellent that contains either DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol, all ingredients approved by the EPA. (To determine the best bug spray for your family, specific to the time you'll be outside and what type of insect you're most seeking to avoid, the EPA has an online calculator on its website, ww.epa.gov.)
Beyond that, there's not a lot to do besides take comfort in the fact that risk of contracting Zika in the U.S. is exceedingly low for now.
"We will encourage campers to wear repellent and not go to areas of standing water. We will monitor those areas. Other than that, there’s not much we can do about Zika. There are probably bigger issues, like sunburn," Phran Edelman, program director of Camp Shoresh in Adamstown, Maryland, told Washington Jewish Week.
There's an easy solution for that one: Pack sunscreen.