By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director
Pregnant women around the world may be feeling scared and overwhelmed by news about the Zika virus. Spread by mosquito bites, Zika has been linked to microcephaly – a birth defect characterized by a small head and brain damage – in infants born to infected mothers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that the best way to prevent contracting the Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites. You can read the CDC’s latest information about Zika here.
Pregnant women have especially strong reasons to avoid mosquito bites. Two types of Aedes species mosquitos are known to transmit Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses in several regions of the world outside the U.S. And some Culex mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, which peaks in summer months. While Zika poses an immediate and severe threat to the fetus, all of these viruses can undermine an expectant mother’s health. And bites from any mosquito are uncomfortable.
Here are safe and effective ways to prevent mosquito bites while pregnant or breastfeeding. For tips on how to protect kids from bites, click here.
Protect your skin by wearing long sleeves, pants, high collars, shoes and socks. Thick fabrics are best. Mosquitoes can bite you through thin clothing, so spray your clothes with repellent as well. It’s safe to use permethrin on clothing, but not directly on your skin.
Install screens on windows and doors at home. While traveling, look for accommodations and restaurants with similar protections. Avoid standing water, where mosquitoes breed.
Apply insect repellent
For extra protection, some insect repellents are safe to use during pregnancy. EWG’s analysis of safety studies concluded that women should consider using DEET at seven to 30 percent strength, Picaridin at 10 to 20 percent and IR3535 at 20 percent.
Picaridin may be best if you have sensitive skin or allergies. Follow instructions carefully.
EWG recommends Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and PMD for adults but not children because these chemicals have not been adequately tested for safe use on kids under age three. Take caution with these repellents if you are pregnant, and don’t use them at all if you have young children at home.
Don’t use products that combine sunscreen and bug repellent. Instead, apply sunscreen first, then repellent. Reapply both as necessary, and wash them off when you come indoors.
Use only as much as you need
Don’t overdo repellents. Instead of a single powerful dose, use lower concentrations and reapply if you stay outdoors for many hours.
Check the clock
Culex mosquitoes, more likely to be found in the U.S., tend to bite between dusk and dawn. The more aggressive Aedes species typically bite during the day. Take extra care during peak biting times.
For more advice on insect repellents while pregnant, including how to protect against tick bites, visit EWG’s Guide to Bug Repellents: Pregnant Women.