With the threat of the Zika virus looming over Central and South America, protecting yourself against mosquito bite is the smart thing to do.

The Zika fever, which is caused by the Zika virus, joins the "roster" of illnesses that the Aedes aegypti mosquito can transmit to people, including the West Nile virus, yellow fever, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis and dengue. Other mosquitoes under the genus Aedes can also carry the Zika virus.

The first cases of the Zika virus in Brazil were reported in May last year. In early December, the disease had hit regions of South America and was suspected to cause lethal birth defects.

Now, no cases of Zika fever have been reportedly transmitted in the United States, but cases of travelers returning to the country with it are increasing, authorities said. In Monterrey, a city in Mexico that's just 150 miles far from the Texas border, one case of Zika fever was reported.

"We know Zika virus has arrived in the Americas and are monitoring the illness because of the likelihood it could spread further," said Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

What To Do To Prevent Mosquito Bites

Most scientists believe that mosquitoes are attracted to people because of genetics -- and not in the aesthetically pleasing way. About 85 percent of a person's susceptibility to being bitten by mosquitoes can be blamed to our blood type, metabolism, carbon dioxide, and large numbers of bacteria that reside on our skin.

If more than a quarter of our chance to get bitten by a mosquito is accounted to genetics, what can we do then? Luckily, there are several things we can do to protect ourselves from potentially dangerous mosquito bites.

1. Wear insect repellent

The chemical-based insect repellent DEET or Diethyltoluamide is the most effective repellent you can use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A 20 percent repellent can last for about 5 hours, experts said.

Aside from chemical-based repellents, there are also plant-based ones such as citronella, neem and lemon eucalyptus. Children and pregnant women can use both chemical-based and plant-based insect repellents to protect themselves.

2. Cover up

If the weather permits, you should wear pants and shirts with long sleeves to cover up yourself. If you have insect or mosquito bites, it's best not to scratch them because if you do, infection is more likely to develop.

3. Keep mosquitoes outside

As mosquitoes can attack you even inside your homes, it's best to use air conditioning or make sure that there are door/window screens at your house. It's also good to sleep under a mosquito bed net.

4. Protect yourself when travelling

When travelling, you should cover yourself up, wear sunscreen and insect repellent, drink lots of water and stay in air-conditioned rooms.

The Aedes Mosquito In California

Officials in Orange County, California are alarmed about the sudden emergence of the tropical A. aegypti mosquito in the area because it can transmit the Zika fever.

"It's one more disease on the list that we have to be concerned about," said Jared Dever of Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control. "It adds to chikungunya, dengue – that up until about four months ago we weren't worried about."

The A. aegypti mosquito appeared in California in April last year. After six months it began to pop up in other communities in the county. Some residents had as many as 20 bites on their legs, officials said.

Scott Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch said it is probable that the Zika virus came to California through infected travelers.

"This is what we saw with chikungunya. But so far, with chikungunya, that only happened in Florida in 2014, and Florida certainly has very large populations of (tropical mosquitoes)," said Weaver. "The risk is probably not as great in California."

Unlike the Culex mosquito, which is the Orange County's native West Nile virus-carrying mosquito and prefers to bite at night, the tropical mosquito performs its own job during the day.

Weaver said the differences in climate conditions between the U.S. and South America may have played a role as to how the Zika virus and the Aedes mosquito established itself in the latter.

The Aedes mosquitoes typically breed in houseplants with little water and even containers with no water at all because their eggs can survive dry conditions. Hence, they can live through the hot conditions in tropical countries.

"Most of us have air conditioning and our homes have screens on the windows, so they don't get inside as often or have as much access to bite," said Weaver, adding that people in the U.S. don't expose themselves to mosquitoes in the same level as in Southeast Asia.

Lastly, Weaver said the news of the Zika virus in the U.S. is not a cause for panic. "If the virus does circulate in California, then they should be very concerned. But I don't think in the meantime there's cause for a lot of alarm."

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr

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