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Summer Olympics 2016: Brazil, Mosquitos and the Zika Virus

Nobody likes mosquitos. Why not? Not only can these insects give people an itchy bite, they're also responsible for the spread of a number of diseases. One of the diseases mosquitos are responsible for has been in the news a lot lately: Zika.

The Zika Virus

The Zika virus is responsible for Zika virus disease, or Zika for short. This virus was discovered in Uganda back in 1947. However, it's only recently become a widespread concern.

In 2015, an epidemic of Zika broke out in Brazil. One year into the epidemic, there have been nearly 40,000 confirmed cases and almost 155,000 suspected cases. While nearby countries have also been affected, Brazil has been hit the hardest.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika usually causes mild symptoms like a fever, rash or joint pain. However, the disease is much more serious for pregnant women. When pregnant women get Zika, they put their unborn babies at risk of developing severe birth defects like microcephaly (a medical condition in which a baby's brain is small and underdeveloped).

Olympics Risks

The Zika epidemic in Brazil is made worse by the fact that the Olympic games will be held there in August 2016. The large numbers of tourists that flock to the region could be exposed to infected mosquitos, and they could become ill.

If you're planning to attend the Olympics, make sure to take the same mosquito precautions that you'd take at home. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect your skin from these biting insects. Protect your exposed skin with an insect repellent that contains DEET. It's also a good idea to stay indoors at dawn and dusk since that's when mosquitos are most active.

Another risk posed by the Olympics is that infected tourists may bring the virus home with them. The CDC explains that the Zika virus is found in a person's blood for one week after the initial infection. If a tourist returns to the United States and is bitten by an aedes mosquito during the one week period, and if that same aedes mosquito then bites someone else before it dies— the virus could begin to spread. Since these pests only live for one to three weeks, the timing has to be just right for this to happen. Only the aedes mosquito is able to transmit the virus.

Risks at Home

So far, the Zika virus has been reported in 17 states, including Georgia. All of these cases are associated with travel to affected areas. This means no one has been infected by domestic mosquitos yet. This could change after the Olympics. It's more important than ever to take steps to control for mosquitos around your home.

Since these insects rely on standing water to breed, it's important to get rid of any water sources around your home. Trash cans, bird baths, discarded tires and other areas where water collects should be emptied frequently to discourage mosquito breeding. Bug professionals can also spray your backyard with a pest spray that will reduce mosquitos without harming good bugs (like bees).

To give yourself peace of mind, make sure to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites— even if you'll be watching the Summer Olympics at home.