Zika Virus: Zika is spread mostly by the bite of the Aedes species of mosquito, but an infected man can also pass it to his partner through sex. Most people that are infected will have either mild symptoms (fever, rash, muscle pain, headache) or no symptoms at all, but elderly people are more likely to experience complications. The biggest risk is for pregnant women. The virus can be transmitted to the fetus and cause serious problems, including microcephaly or incomplete brain development. Pregnant women should avoid traveling to certain areas with high levels of outbreak, including Central and South America, Caribbean, and some Pacific Islands. They should also avoid unprotected sex if their partner has recently been in a high risk area.
The best way to protect yourself is to avoid areas with active outbreaks. If you must travel to a high risk area, talk to your doctor about special precautions. And closer to home, avoid mosquito bites by always using an EPA-registered insect repellent with an active ingredient such as DEET, Picaridin, or Oil of Lemon eucalyptus. When used as directed, these products are safe for pregnant women. Avoid stagnant water where mosquitos thrive, and be especially vigilant at night by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants.
Water Park Contaminations: Last month a teenager died after visiting a water park that tested positive for an amoeba that can cause a deadly brain infection. Although rare, there have been 37 occurrences of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba since 2006. It’s generally found in warm, fresh water, so caution should be used when swimming in lakes and rivers. The amoeba enters the body through the nose, so wearing nose plugs or avoiding water in the nose can reduce the very small risk even further.
Of more concern are a variety of recreational water illnesses (RWIs) that are caused by contaminated water in pools, hot tubs, parks, fountains, lakes, rivers and oceans. One of the most common is cryptosporidium (crypto), an intestinal parasite that can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. It can last for several days, and can be dangerous or even fatal for those with compromised immune systems. Crypto is contagious, and most contamination occurs when someone with diarrhea enters the water. If you or your child has had diarrhea, avoid pools and hot tubs for at least two weeks to avoid spreading the infection. Remind your child not to swallow water, and always check the most recent inspection notice at your public pool.
Food Safety and Contamination: Keeping our food supply safe is of utmost importance for our government, so drastic measures are often taken to minimize or eliminate risk to the general population. When a certain item is found to be contaminated, either through a random inspection or an outbreak of infection traced to that item, a recall of that item is often issued. Lately, there have been multiple recalls featured in the news, from ground beef and all-purpose flour with possible E. coli contamination to frozen vegetables that tested positive for listeria.
The best way to protect yourself is to always thoroughly wash produce, cook completely, and avoid eating raw food that’s intended to be cooked (such as cookie dough). Also remember that the vast majority of our food supply is safe, and that stringent controls are in place to ensure that it stays that way. Still, it’s important to pay attention to recalls, and make sure you return or dispose of any recalled food promptly. See the list of current recalls.
If you think you or a member of your family may have a mosquito, water, or food-borne infection, call your doctor immediately. For severe or prolonged vomiting or diarrhea - particularly in young children or the elderly, confusion or disorientation, breathing difficulties or rapid swelling and discoloration, call 911 or visit the emergency room. El Camino Hospital ER locations and wait times.
This article first appeared in the August 2016 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.