By John Hageman
Contributing Writer

According to the World Health Organization, Zika virus distribution worldwide includes 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Mexico, and now, southern Florida in the U.S.

The numbers of cases diagnosed in the continental U.S. from those returning from infected countries are approaching 2,000, with dozens of additional cases originating near Miami, Florida – the first in the U.S.

Already, England is recommending that their citizens not travel to Florida, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued warnings for pregnant women to avoid travel to southern Florida.

Major league baseball games scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico were canceled and many qualified 2016 Summer Olympians stayed behind in fear of becoming infected while in Brazil and complicating their future family planning.

What does this means to sportsmen who spend significant time outside, now and in the future?

Luckily, the Zika virus is still very rare, compared to the overall human population in North America. But, like the West Nile Virus, it is likely to become firmly established in North America.

Similarly, the consequences of infection may range from barely noticeable to severe. The severe cases may lead to death from fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes (conjunctivitis), and the risk of underdeveloped brain and head size (microcephaly) in newborns exposed while in the womb.

There is also some connection with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes pain, tingling, muscle weakness, and swallowing and breathing complications.

People who have been stricken by Zika become carriers of the virus for weeks to months, which allows the spread from person to person by local mosquitoes in parts of the U.S. that support a specific genus of mosquito.

Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes of the genus Aedes. They are commonly referred to as Asian tiger mosquitoes, for their striped legs and bodies, visible to the naked eye.

Aedes eagypti is the species most commonly known to spread the disease and to date has been found in 26 states, not including Ohio. Another species capable of spreading the disease, Aedes albopictus, has been found in 40 states, and at least 37 Ohio counties.

Aedes albopictus, along with several species of the genus Culex also spread West Nile, which has been detected in many states already this year.

The two species of Aedes mosquitoes both prefer to live in close proximity to and feed upon only humans, and use the clutter found in cities for breeding locations.

They often lay their eggs in manmade objects, such as discarded coffee cups, beverage cans, old tires, bird feeders, buckets, planters, gutters, and even bottle caps.

So at home, it is recommended to discard these types of potential mosquito-breeding containers and dump bird baths whenever larvae are seen in them. Peak mosquito season often occurs in August and September.

The highest risk for traveling sportsmen at the moment should be those planning to travel to the regions of the world where the virus is expanding, especially in South America. High volume duck and dove hunts there may now be riskier.

However, care should also be taken by sportsmen on all hunting and fishing trips regardless of location. Use a proven insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and use head netting as necessary.

Luckily, sportsmen enjoying outdoor activities in warm weather no longer have to choose between applying sunscreen and bug repellent. There are a number of products now available that are formulated to protect people from both UV radiation and insect bites.

Asian tiger mosquitoes often feed in the daytime and are prone to find a way indoors. While camping, make sure all tents or campers have intact window and door screens to minimize the number of mosquito bites received while sleeping.

The Zika virus is just another example of how small the world has become, ever since routine travel and trade from one continent to another has become so common. Mosquitoes, which transmit West Nile, Dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever and now the Zika virus, are willing to travel wherever people come and go.

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