There’s a new insect-borne virus in town: Zika.
Well, actually, it was discovered in 1947 and is a rare, equatorial virus most often contracted from mosquitoes. It is spread by daytime Aedes mosquitoes and is related to dengue, yellow fever, West Nile, and Japanese encephalitis, although much milder. However, there is no medication or vaccine that can prevent the virus.
In other words: It’s not pretty, and it has been spreading fast. In 2012-13, the virus spread eastward from Asia into the south Pacific, reaching Mexico and South America by 2015. The outbreak is now at pandemic levels, spread across multiple continents and affecting potentially billions of people:
Zika itself is not terrible. It’s a mild virus, and the major downside is that it can’t be medicated so the only treatment is rest. It’s the side-effects that can be most dangerous.
The biggest risk of Zika revolves around post-virus pregnancy. Being infected with Zika while or just before becoming pregnant puts the woman at a serious risk that the baby could miscarry or be born with microcephaly, an extremely rare birth condition where the head is small and the brain is not fully developed. This rare disorder occasionally can be resolved, but for the most part it significantly decreases life span and brain function. Most countries have put out a memo encouraging pregnant women to postpone travel until the pandemic subsides.
However, yet-to-be-born children aren’t the only ones at risk from Zika. In extremely rare cases, Zika can lead to the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults, an autoimmune disorder characterized by rapid-onset muscle weakness. While it is curable, it is an unpleasant and invasive syndrome that would knock you off your feet, literally, for weeks.
Along with West Nile, Equine Encephalitis, Dengue, Yellow Fever, and, of course, Lyme disease, the risks from insect-borne illness grow every day, and will continue to do so as long as the planet is warming and making our planet more habitable to bugs and infectious diseases alike. Whether or not you travel internationally or just go hiking in the backyard, these risks are still present, so we should be aware of them!
Unfortunately, there are really only three possibilities when faced with a desire to not get munched on by mosquitoes, black flies, ticks, and chiggers:
- Spend the rest of your life inside.
- Douse yourself in smelly, toxic insect repellent (or all-natural, less effective, still smelly insect repellant).
- Wear insect repellant clothing treated with a nontoxic substance that won’t eat your skin.
Here at RailRiders, we always choose 3, and we’ve been working with InsectShield, a company that treats clothing with a substance called permethrin, for years. At first, we were skeptical. Bug repellant clothing? How is that possible? After testing it out ourselves in swampy, buggy New England, skepticism turned to relief. Gone was the need for Deet and headnets. InsectShield actually worked!
InsectShield is not invasive – there’s no odor, residue, or any evidence at all that you are wearing bug spray on your body. Unlike bug spray, it won’t wash off if you get wet and you’ll never have to “re-apply.” For those of us with an impassioned hatred towards spray-on chemical bug repellant, InsectShield is a revelation.
The way InsectShield’s treatment works is proprietary; they bind the minimum amount of permethrin necessary to be effective to the actual fibers of the clothing. Permethrin in high concentrations can be toxic to humans and especially to pets (mainly cats), but the concentration level that they use is far below any toxicity and is 100% safe, even to wash with the rest of your clothes! InsectShield certifies the effectiveness to last up to 70 washings which, if you wash your clothes as often as I do (not often), is a long time.
If you’re traveling into the tropics this year, or just want to be more comfortable in your backyard, check out our InsectShield products!