So far, most of the buzz about the Zika virus has been about its devastating effects on unborn babies and risks for pregnant women, but the virus also can be a risk for seniors with weakened immune systems. Diligent facilities management and CDC-approved precautions can go a long way to set worried minds at ease.
In mid-July, the first cases of Zika were reported in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified two areas of Miami-Dade County, Florida where the Zika virus was present. As of August 24, 2016, less than 30 locally acquired cases had been reported, but almost 2,500 more U.S. cases were linked to recent travel to countries where Zika is prevalent.
Most adults who contract the virus will have no symptoms, or will experience mild symptoms including a rash, fever, muscle and joint pain, headache and/or conjunctivitis. However, the CDC has made “a strong association” between the virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare condition where a person’s immune system begins to attack the body’s own nerve cells. While most people who have GBS recover fully, some end up with permanent nerve damage or paralysis.
The Zika virus is transmitted primarily by the tropical Aedes mosquito, whose travel range is approximately the southern half of the United States, according to the CDC. Once infected, a person can spread the virus to others through sexual contact and contaminated blood transfusions. On Aug. 26, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory for the testing of all blood donations and other blood supplies to ensure they are Zika-free. “There is still much uncertainty regarding the nature and extent of Zika virus transmission,” said Peter Marks, MD, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “At this time, the recommendation for testing the entire blood supply will help ensure that safe blood is available for all individuals who might need transfusion.”
What can senior communities do?
While the CDC says there’s no need for overreaction in the United States, there are things senior communities and adult day centers can do to reduce risk.
- Be proactive to limit risk to residents, staff and visiting families.
- When residents are outside, cover exposed skin covered with light-colored clothing.
- Consider limiting outside time during the heaviest mosquito-biting periods—the two hours before and after sunrise and sundown.
- Before putting any insect repellant on a resident, be sure to consult with the nursing staff.
- If approved by the nursing staff, use EPA-registered insect repellents that contain one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol, the CDC suggests.
- If residents have breathing problems or use oxygen tanks, choose repellants that come in towellette or non-aerosol form.
- If residents have wound dressings or known skin issues, be sure to consult with the nursing staff on how best to apply the repellant safely.
- Be proactive about facility/landscape management
- Inspect the exterior property and remove any objects that may collect standing water—the favorite breeding place of mosquitoes. Chlorinated pools and running fountains are fine, but look for empty flowerpots, bowls and other containers where stagnant water might attract mosquitoes to lay eggs.
- Train your landscape team to recongize the mosquito larvae, which can hatch in the tiniest amount of water in a matter of days [video]
- Inspect window screening and fix any gaps or holes.
- If mosquitoes are a big concern in your area, consider seeking the advice of a pest control company who may be able to spray outdoor areas to control mosquito populations.