By Melanie Forti
AFOP Health & Safety Director

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika Forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert about the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil.  Later on February, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

As of today, the number of infected people around the world is uncertain.  However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed over a 1,860 cases in the U.S. from which 120 were due to travel (mostly to PR), and 481 are pregnant women.  CDC has identified the following states to be the most at risk of having their population infected with the Zika virus:  California, Florida, New Mexico, Texas.

Meanwhile in Puerto Rico (PR) the number of cases keeps growing, more than 1,350 people have tested positive for Zika since the beginning of the epidemic, including 168 pregnant women.  It is expected that one quarter of the territory’s population could be infected by year’s end.    While PR’s economy is already a big issue, now the Zika virus is threatening its tourism, main source of PR’s economy sustainability.

As of today there is no vaccine or cure for the virus.  CDC recognizes that the supermarket bug control pesticides are not effective in killing mosquito that transmits the Zika virus.  As a contingency measure, the local government of Puerto Rico debates whether or not to aerial spray the island with a pesticide called Naled.  Probably making the remedy worse than the disease.

In a study conducted by Cox in 2002, it was demonstrated that those exposed to Naled suffered from chronic nervous system damage resulting in a mineralization of the spinal cord and decreased nervous system enzyme activity that can led to partial paralysis. Another study conducted by EXTOXNET identified that the pesticide Naled is practically non-persistent in the environment but is very toxic to most organisms.

While many are being infected by the Zika virus – even dying, the senate has blocked a federal spending bill that would have provided $1.1 billion to fight the mosquitos-borne Zika virus as of June 28, 2016.

Hopefully they can come to an agreement and  provide the necessary funding to treat the virus and prevent from dispersing even more in US and its territories.

How does it spread?

Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.  However, the virus can also be transmitted through sex with an infected man, or it can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus.

The mosquitoes that carry Zika are aggressive daytime biters, but they can also bite at night. A mosquito becomes infected when it bites a person already infected with Zika. That mosquito can then spread the virus by biting more people.


  • Many people infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
  • The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
  • People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
  • Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people.
  • Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.


  • The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya, diseases spread through the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika.
  • See your doctor or other healthcare provider if you have the symptoms described above and have visited an area with Zika.
  • If you have recently traveled, tell your doctor or other healthcare provider when and where you traveled. A blood or urine test can confirm a Zika infection
  • Your doctor or other healthcare provider may order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses like dengue or chikungunya.


  • There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus.
  • Treat the symptoms:
    • Get plenty of rest.
    • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
    • Take medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or paracetamol to reduce fever and pain.
    • Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding.
    • If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
  • If you have Zika, take steps to prevent mosquito bites for the first week of your illness. ◦During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites.
    • An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.

PREVENTION IS KEY! How to prevent Zika:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Take steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside your home.
  • Treat your clothing and gear with permethrin or buy pre-treated items.
  • Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex.

Here’s what you can do to control mosquitoes outside your home:

  • Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out any items that hold water like tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpot saucers, or trash containers. Mosquitoes lay eggs near water.
    • Tightly cover water storage containers (buckets, cisterns, rain barrels) so that mosquitoes cannot get inside to lay eggs.
    • For containers without lids, use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
    • Use larvicides to treat large containers of water that will not be used for drinking and cannot be covered or dumped out.
  • Use an outdoor insect spray made to kill mosquitoes in areas where they rest. ◦Mosquitoes rest in dark, humid areas like under patio furniture, or under the carport or garage. When using insecticides, always follow label instructions.
  • If you have a septic tank, repair cracks or gaps. Cover open vent or plumbing pipes. Use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.

Here’s what you can do to control mosquitoes inside your home:

  • Install or repair and use window and door screens. Do not leave doors propped open.
  • Use air conditioning when possible.
  • Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out any items that hold water like vases and flowerpot saucers. Mosquitoes lay eggs near water.
  • Kill mosquitoes inside your home. Use an indoor insect fogger* or indoor insect spray* to kill mosquitoes and treat areas where they rest. These products work immediately, and may need to be reapplied. When using insecticides, always follow label directions. Only using insecticide will not keep your home free of mosquitoes.
    • Mosquitoes rest in dark, humid places like under the sink, in closets, under furniture, or in the laundry room

As part of Melanie’s responsibilities of staying informed about health and safety issues, she has been participating in the White House Office conference calls about Zika.  Health and Safety staff have developed two short low-literacy videos about Zika, and posted them on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter reaching more than 3,000 people.  Melanie participated in a national Twitter conversation about Zika in which she highlighted the importance of having funding to prevent Zika infection in vulnerable populations like farmworkers.