Zika: Protecting Yourself Protects Those around You

Author: Camille Hesterberg, Communications Specialist, IEM

By now, you have probably heard Zika being described as a public health crisis. Zika does not have a direct impact on most people, and it is not life-threatening like some other mosquito-borne illnesses.[1] Therefore, it is challenging for the general population to feel connected to the issue and to be concerned about Zika’s spread. Understanding what makes Zika a public health issue will help people appreciate how their individual actions can help contain the spread of Zika.

Although Zika may not feel personal to you now, the more it spreads, the more likely it is that you will feel its impact. You may become infected and feel unwell as a result; someone you know may become pregnant, and her child may be born with congenital Zika syndrome (term for microcephaly and other Zika-related birth defects)[2]; or, with the price of recovering after a Zika outbreak being more costly than preventative measures that stop the spread of Zika, you may feel the social and economic burdens of this disease for years to come.

How is Zika a public health issue?

The essence of public health is in preventing negative health impacts to an individual.[3] Zika has the potential to affect a significant number of people, both within local communities and throughout many countries around the world.[4] By enacting a public health solution (by focusing on prevention), the spread of Zika can be controlled. Just like washing your hands helps to stop the spread of certain contagious diseases, there are steps that individuals can take to protect themselves against Zika, which will also benefit their loved ones and members of their community.

Generally, Zika is portrayed as being only of concern to pregnant women. However, the grave health consequences of Zika, such as microcephaly and other birth effects like Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), cause negative impacts that will be felt for the entirety of the affected individual’s lifespan and are burdens that are shared by an entire community. The untold costs and hardships felt by those directly affected will translate into collective costs for other community members as well.[5] This trend of infectious diseases having broader impact on the whole community, rather than causing only individual hardships, has been observed in other epidemics.[6]

The good news is, the steps you can take to protect yourself against Zika will go a long way in protecting those around you as well.

Ways to prevent transfer of Zika virus:

  1. Wear FDA-approved mosquito repellant and skin-covering clothes to keep you from getting bitten. This allows you to protect yourself from all the diseases that mosquitoes carry, including Zika virus. Preventing mosquito bites also stops the virus from spreading to the local mosquito population if a person is infected without showing any symptoms.
  2. Fix broken screens and seals on windows and doors to stop mosquitoes from entering your home. The mosquito breed that more commonly carries Zika virus prefer to bite humans while indoors.[7]
  3. Remove standing water inside and around your home to prevent Zika-carrying mosquitoes from living or breeding in your area. Since these mosquitoes do not travel far from their breeding grounds, the more distance you put between yourself and them, the better.[8]
  4. Use protection to stop sexual transmission. This is critical now that we know Zika can be transmitted sexually.[9]

Erring on the side of caution by using preventative techniques and making choices as if you do carry the virus (even when you don’t) will go a long way in stopping its spread.

Your personal response to Zika impacts your health and the health of those around you. By taking protective measures against Zika, not only are you reducing your individual chances of contracting Zika but you are reducing the overall impact the virus may have on your community. A public health response that involves all members of a society and is focused on prevention is much more effective than dealing with the impacts and recovery from a widespread outbreak in your community.


[1] “The Zika virus: A mystery no more” The Economist, September 17 2016

[2] http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2016/10/03/Zika-causes-widespread-damage-to-fetal-brain/6151475515990/

[3] http://www.jhsph.edu/about/what-is-public-health/

[4] http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html

[5] http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/articles/one-year-outbreak/en/index4.html

[6] http://www.who.int/choice/economicburden/en/

[7] https://www.cdc.gov/dengue/resources/30Jan2012/aegyptifactsheet.pdf

[8] http://www.who.int/denguecontrol/mosquito/en/

[9] “The Zika virus: A mystery no more” The Economist, September 17 2016

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