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How Zika Virus Works

Protecting Yourself — and Fighting Back
Health workers fumigate in an attempt to eradicate Zika-carrying mosquitoes in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.
Health workers fumigate in an attempt to eradicate Zika-carrying mosquitoes in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

We said above that the obvious answer to avoiding mosquito-borne viruses is to avoid mosquito bites. This is easier said than done with Aedes, which bite aggressively, mainly (but not exclusively) during the day, and live and feed both indoors and out [source: CDC]. But mosquitos are only half of the equation. The other half is their preferred meal — us [source: CDC].

In many areas, including the U.S., mosquitos do not yet carry Zika, and all cases come from human travelers. We want to keep it that way. So if you think you have Zika, see a doctor, and try to avoid being bitten by any mosquitos, especially during the first week of illness [source: CDC]. Also, as mentioned previously, you should really abstain from sex. But if you can't fight the urge to merge, at least inform your partners, and use condoms the right way every time [source: McNeil et al.].

Bite avoidance is mainly a matter of wearing the right clothes, controlling your environment and living better through chemistry. Make long-sleeved shirts and long pants your new fashion statement, and treat your togs with permethrin. Spend some quality time in air-conditioned spaces, deck out your domicile with screens and screen doors, and sleep under a mosquito net when camping or traveling in Zika-infested countries [source: CDC].

Obviously, travelers should pay attention to health notices and avoid traveling to places where Zika exists, if possible [sources: CDC, McNeil et al.].

States and countries are fighting Zika through a combination of tracking populations and denying the critters their preferred habitat. You can help by organizing your neighborhood to cover, get rid of and dry out areas where water collects. Aedes mosquitos lay their eggs in standing water, and even a bottle cap's worth can be enough. During mosquito season, officials will sample adult mosquitos for evidence of infection and apply adulticides around homes known to have Zika [sources: CDC, McNeil et al.].

More radical solutions with potentially unforeseeable and dangerous consequences involve wiping out the mosquitos themselves. One company is offering to spread genetically modified mosquitos to wipe out Aedes vectors. These male mosquitoes are engineered to have offspring that die before adulthood [source: Barker]. But the wrong approach could have disastrous ecological consequences. Whether that will stay our hands for long remains to be seen.