UPDATED JUNE 30, 2016
Zika is still making the news, now that Rainy Season has hit the tropics and summer is underway in North America. Overall, the rate of infection in Central America is DECREASING, indicating that government steps to combat the mosquito have been effective. Here in Costa Rica, we’ve experienced an intense start to the Rainy Season this May and June after the longest drought in 70 years. Subsequently, there has been an uptick in cases, bringing the total to 107, of which 14 were contracted abroad. The cases are concentrated in the areas of Nicoya (Guanacaste), Garabito and Parrita (Puntarenas) and Alajuelita (San Jose). The government has stepped up its program of fumigating, educational campaigns and collecting refuse that could collect standing water (i.e. old tires). The cases have been in concentrated areas and the majority of the country has not been affected.
Although the US has not recorded a locally-transmitted case yet, 935 cases have been recorded throughout most of the country, as per this map and another 2026 (including locally-transmitted) in US territories.
The most comprehensive study to-date on the known locations of the species combined with information on environmental conditions across the globe shows a less appropriate habitat in Costa Rica than much of the U.S. for the Ae. Albopictus species mosquito. Looking at this map, Costa Rica has less mosquito habitat than the Eastern half of the USA.
Approximately 60% of the US population lives in an environment where Zika transmission can take place. Another study of where the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been found over the past 11 years includes California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, DC and even New Hampshire.
This past week, a bill to allocate $1.1 billion towards funding anti-Zika health measures did not pass Congress, causing concern as many areas with the highest risk, such as Alabama, do not have funds to effectively combat the Zika threat. With the onset of summer and mosquito season,there is a high probability for an outbreak in the USA.
Although I am not a medical professional, looking at the research and data, it would seem that there is a potential risk of contracting Zika in various areas of the USA, perhaps equal to or mores0 than in most of Costa Rica.
What is Zika?
* It is a virus transmitted through bites from the same kind of mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti, that can spread other tropical diseases, like dengue fever, chikungunya and yellow fever. It is not known to spread from person to person. The only areas in the Americas without this mosquito are Canada and Chile. There are no vaccines for it at present time.
* 80% of people infected show no symptoms. Those who do experience mild, flu-like symptoms, with fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, which last no more than a week. Symptoms typically occur about two to seven days after the mosquito bites. If affected, the WHO recommends rest, liquids and acetaminophen for fever and pain.
* The virus is gone from the bloodstream within five to seven days. There is no evidence to suggest it would lie dormant and pop up again. If you get it, you likely won’t know, will have mild symptoms and then will be immunized for life.
* Deaths and hospitalizations caused by the Zika virus are rare. Fetuses and newborns are particularly at risk, though. The disease is suspected of causing two serious complications: neurological problems and birth defects in babies born to infected women. But while there appears to be a connection with Zika, researchers have not definitively confirmed a causal link.
* It’s spreading in many different countries where people are in close quarters, lots of mosquitoes are more present, and where there is a lack of screens on windows, air conditioning in buildings and insect repellent (which are not the conditions found throughout Costa Rica)
In short, the Zika virus will likely have NO effect on those whom may contract it. The biggest concern is with pregnant women and the possibility of the baby contracting microcephaly. CDC says that “knowledge of the link between Zika and these outcomes is evolving.” Until more is known, it recommends “special precautions for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.”
What About Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a tropical country however, we do not have the same issues with mosquitos found in other countries, such as Brazil where it is epidemic, for a few reasons:
a) Costa Rica has the highest population of birds and bats in the Western Hemisphere, which keep the bug population in check – bats eat between 600 – 1000 mosquitos an hour.
I’ve honestly had way more problems with mosquitos in Canada than I’ve ever had in Costa Rica. Because we have low urban populations compared to other countries, there are more bats all over the country. And the beach areas are not densely built so Mother Nature keeps the bugs in check.
b) the areas of Brazil with the highest concentration of Zika are cities with standing water, which proliferate during the wet, hot summer. Costa Rica does not have similar urban conditions as Brazil nor as the other countries with high Zika rates.
c) Costa Rica spends over $6 million USD a year fumigating the country, which is the size as West Virginia. Because dengue is present, the Health Department is very diligent with fumigation, on-going educational campaigns as well as door to door inspections to minimize standing water/breeding grounds.
d) Costa Rica has been focused on iradicating Aedes aegypti mosquito (which transmits dengue and Zika) for years already. This is one reason why surrounding countries have Zika but Costa Rica has not yet a case of infection caused in-country.
e) hotels and resorts spray their grounds on a regular basis to keep the mosquitos away.
f) repellent is very effective when applied regularly
How to Prevent Contracting Zika
* wear insect repellant. Apply it AFTER you’ve applied sunscreen
* stay in a location with air conditioning or screens on the windows
* You can also go one step further and wear clothing that contains permethrin, which is a synthetic insecticide that started showing up in consumer products in 2003. These products have been tested by the EPA and determined to be effective at deterring pests, and safe for children and women who are pregnant or nursing.
If anything, Costa Rica is better equipped to deal with mosquitos than many states and countries, as we have on-going anti-dengue campaigns to keep the mosquito population down.
Costa Rica is working hard to keep Zika out of the country and non-pregnant visitors taking regular precautions against insects should have no issues.
Consult your health professional and check out the CDC, WHO, BBC in order to make an informed decision on your travel plans.