(Bloomberg) — If bug-spray makers and U.S. health officials get their way, Off and other insect repellents will take up permanent space alongside toothpaste in America’s medicine cabinets.
Drugstores and local agencies are doing their part in the marketing push by issuing warnings about Zika, a virus that causes devastating birth defects in babies infected in the womb. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the species of mosquito that carries Zika has been found across most of the nation, sparing only some parts of the West and the northernmost states.
See also: Zika and bug spray
“If you are going outside, wear mosquito repellent,” said Michael Beach, deputy incident manager for the CDC’s Zika response team. “It needs to be the same as putting on sunscreen or brushing your teeth.”
As concerns mount over the spread of Zika from Latin America, bug-spray manufacturers are boosting production and labeling products as effective for fighting it, while pharmacies are increasing orders and installing in-store displays. In New York, the most-populous U.S. city, officials are gearing up with a comprehensive public-health program based on lessons learned from fighting the West Nile virus more than a decade ago.
The goal of health experts isn’t to overwhelm or scare people but to prepare the public for the likelihood that Zika infections may start to transmit locally, Beach said. There are currently 600 pregnant women in the U.S. with Zika infections contracted abroad who are being monitored.
“This virus is a game changer from a reproductive-health standpoint because the birth defects are horrendous in nature,” Beach said.
Zika can also lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare condition that may cause paralysis in older children and adults.
See also: Could Zika paralyze hundreds of U.S. adults?
New York launched a three-year Zika-control program in April that expands testing, monitoring and eradication. The city of 8.4 million people is tapping its experience from previous bouts with West Nile, a virus transmitted by a different species of mosquito than the one that carries Zika.
West Nile, meanwhile, doesn’t produce symptoms in most people, but it can cause serious Guillain-Barre syndrome and other serious consequences, such as vision loss, in about 1 in 150 infected people. The virus appeared in the Western Hemisphere in and around New York in 1999, causing serious illness in dozens and seven deaths that year. The city employed large-scale pesticide spraying, including by air.
Today in New York, it’s Zika that’s getting the attention. “Reduce your risk of Zika virus,” says a sign accompanying an “Off Deep Woods” bug-spray display near the checkout of a midtown Manhattan Duane Reade drugstore. Signs in the city’s subway system and elsewhere urge New Yorkers to “Fight Back” against Zika by using repellent and dumping standing water.
Some mosquito-borne viral diseases may lead to very high fevers and, in some cases, to Guillain-Barre syndrome. (Photo: Thinkstock)
It’s not enough for people to be vigilant only from dusk to dawn, when most mosquitoes bite, the CDC says. Aedes mosquitoes, the species that transmits Zika, are active in the daytime. They live inside people’s homes and often bite each member of a family, taking sips of blood from each.
Retailers and manufacturers are scrambling to ensure they’re ready as the summer mosquito season approaches in the Northern Hemisphere. Duane Reade parent Walgreens is working with bug-spray makers to boost supplies, said Phil Caruso, a spokesman. It added brochures about the virus to its 120 Puerto Rico stores earlier this year.