A new virus is “spreading explosively,” according to Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organization (WHO). “The level of alarm is extremely high.” Coming from the director of a global organization whose sole purpose is to keep the world safe from such illnesses, that’s not very reassuring. In fact, just yesterday the WHO declared the Zika virus (pronounced z?k?, or "zeeka") constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern." One source even claims the Zika virus could be a bigger problem even than the most recent Ebola epidemic. [caption id="attachment_19941" align="alignright" width="300"] Countries in which the Zika virus has been reported (click to enlarge) - via CDC[/caption] The Zika Virus is thought to be the link between “a rare brain defect called microcephaly in infants, as well as a nervous system syndrome known as Guillain-Barré that can lead to paralysis,” according to The Washington Post. The virus is spread by mosquitoes and, thanks to the weather patterns brought by El Niño, those pesky little blood-suckers are expected to spread quite a bit this coming year. The Zika virus has already been detected in 23 countries in North and South America, including the United States. With Brazil being the epicenter of the Zika virus, one can only imagine the spread that might occur following the Summer Olympics, which is being held in Rio de Janeiro. If you’ve ever played the board game Pandemic, then you know firsthand how fast this kind of thing can get out of control (because board games are super realistic…But hey, the comparison is there). But the virus isn’t just waiting for a host to carry it to other locations. It is carried by the Aedes species of mosquito, which lives in every country in the Americas except Chile and Canada (I assume border patrol just won’t let them in due to expired mosquito-passports or something). Currently, there is no vaccine or other form of medication to treat the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So how are you supposed to avoid the Zika virus if there is no medical remedy? Prevention is probably your best option at this point. While the Zika virus hasn’t been transferred within the United States through mosquito (yet), it has arrive from travelers who were in a country with the virus. But, the CDC has some recommendations to stay protected from mosquito bites. Insect Repellent [caption id="attachment_19940" align="alignright" width="300"] Click to enlarge (image courtesy of the CDC)[/caption] Kind of obvious, but at the same time, there are certain active ingredients you should make sure your repellent contains. DEET is the most widely-known active ingredient people look for in a repellent, for good reason. But don’t forget Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin). Other ingredients to look for in a repellent are oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or Para-menthane-diol (PMD), and IR3535. The graphic to the right can help you Replace brands that contain those ingredients (although the CDC cannot recommend or endorse any brand-name products). Treat Clothing and Gear Permethrin-treated clothing will keep the mosquitoes off, even after they have been washed multiple times. If you choose to treat your own clothing yourself, make sure you don’t apply permethrin products directly on your skin (so you should probably treat your clothing before you put it on…). Mosquito-Proof Your Home Make sure your window screens are secure and free of holes. Also, make sure to take care of any stagnant water on your property. Sitting water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so make sure to clean out anything that can hold water, or do what you can to clear other standing water on your property. Protect Your Children First off, don’t use insect repellent on babies under 2 months old. Second, make sure you dress your children in clothing that covers their arms and legs. Also, when you’re out for a walk, picnic in the park, or otherwise outside, cover your child’s stroller or carrier with mosquito netting. And while you’re at it, go ahead and cover your baby’s crib with mosquito netting, too. When you do apply insect repellent on your child, don’t spray it all over their face. Instead, spray it onto your hands first and then apply to your child’s face. Avoid getting it in their eyes, mouth, or cuts and other open wounds. While there may not be a vaccine or other medical treatment as of yet, prevention really can go a long way in keeping you safe and healthy. If you are travelling to any area that has the Zika virus (or any other country with mosquito-carried viruses), make sure you take other precautions corresponding to your area of travel. And while some people are calling for war against the mosquitoes (we may be a bit outnumbered there…), you can make sure that your home doesn’t become a battleground for the Zika virus by taking proper precautions.