Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pregnancy and the Zika Virus

Most of us have heard something about the ZIKA virus. As the virus makes it way slowly into the US from Latin America (health officials say it is a matter of 'when' not 'if'), we will all be hearing a whole lot more about this disease... especially now that the World Health Organization suspects it could become " a bigger threat to global health than the Ebola epidemic".

The community that really needs to be alert and concerned are women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant in the coming months.


Zika isn't contagious. It can be transmitted only if a mosquito bites a person who has the virus in their blood, and then bites another person.

Most people with the Zika virus don't experience symptoms. If symptoms do develop, they include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.

In fact, Zika would probably not make the news if it weren't for the horrible effects it is believed to possibly have  when a pregnant woman is infected. Starting last year in Brazil, thousands of babies were born with microcephaly, a condition in which the head is abnormally small,  and that can be accompanied with  brain damage.   Experts suspect the birth defect could be linked to the country's Zika outbreak.


The Zika virus is currently spreading throughout a large part of Latin America.  If you are pregnant and plan on traveling to Latin America read more about travel warnings that could exist for your country of destination.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention "mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite both indoors and outdoors, during the daytime; therefore, it is important to ensure protection from mosquitoes throughout the entire day"

If you live in or have to travel to an area were there is a ZIKA outbreak, it is really important for pregnant women to take extra precautions in avoiding getting bitten by mosquitoes. So, what can you do?

  1. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.  Choose thick fabrics, since mosquito's can and will bite through thin fabrics.  Add insect repellent to clothes for extra protection
  2. Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms. 
  3. Clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots etc, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed.
  4. Use insect repellents. Although here at Non-Toxic Munchkin we like to recommend avoiding strong chemical like those in DEET for pregnant woman, if you do find yourself pregnant and at risk for the ZIKA virus, we do recommend using these insect repellents as directed- clearly this is a case where the tragic results on a baby's health far outweigh the potential for harm that long term use of DEET could have.  Having said that DEET is not the only option. 

Last year (2015) a study was published which tested which mosquito repellents were most efficient at warding off mosquito bites. The winners?

  1. DEET
DEET works. There is no doubt about it, however it is a strong chemical which has been associated with potential side effects like seizures, disorientation and slurred speech. Having said that, due to how well it works, it is the go to product if you live in an area with a ZIKA infestation and are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant.

Here are some tips to follow when using DEET products

  • Always choose a product with less than 30% DEET (increasing concentration does not increase efficacy) 
  • Try not to overuse; this should NOT be used on a daily basis (again, unless you are pregnant and in the middle of a ZIKA outbreak), especially on children. 
  • Canadian authorities suggest children ages 6 months - 2 years who live in infested areas should only use products with concentrations of 5-10% and limit application to once per day (children 2 years- 12 should limit to 3 times a day)
  • Avoid aerosol sprays in pressurized containers: you and your young children can inhale chemicals. instead, stick to lotions or sprays which are easier to control and apply
The DEET containing repellents that tested well in this study were:


The good news is that the CDC, Environmental Working Group, Consumer Report and the authors of the most recent study found that lemon eucalyptus oil is just as effective as DEET and a much safer alternative. In fact "When researchers from New Mexico State University tested a variety of commercial products for their ability to repel mosquitoes, they found that a product containing lemon eucalyptus oil was about as effective and as long lasting as products containing DEET."

The bad news is that it is not advisable to use in children under 3 years of age. Additionally, lemon eucalyptus can cause “severe but temporary eye injuries” so you need to keep it away from eyes.

This is still a chemical, but if you are facing massive tick or ZIKA virus infestations it is a good alternative to DEET. 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus (p-Menthane-3,8-diol) warded off mosquitoes for at least 7 hours and kept deer ticks away for at least 6 hours.

Here are some tips for using this product:

  • If using on kids (age 3 or older) try to spray on clothing instead of skin. 
  • At the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water, and wash treated clothing in a separate wash before wearing again.

The product tested with best results in this current study was Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump Spray, 4-Ounce

This is a synthetic chemical made to resemble piperine, the natural compound found in plants used to make black pepper. In order for it to be effective the spray must contain at least 20% picaridin.

The Environmental Working Group considers Picaridin to be a good DEET alternative with many of the same advantages and without the same disadvantages- however recognizes longer term studies are necessary.

This is a good alternative for those days when you need full coverage (walk in the woods etc) but, ideally, not on a daily basis.

1 comment :

  1. Yes, It's true. That works perfectly fine..

    Most people use commercial products to prevent mosquitoes and other defenses for their safety due to mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue, Malaria, Yellow Fever, LaCrosse Encephalitis (LAC), West Nile Virus (WNV) etc,.

    But, several people love to do Natural Mosquito Repellent by planting herbs plants around or inside the house..

    Thanks for sharing. ;)

    Jaime Scott PhD
    Health and Wellness Advisor