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Op-Ed: This Fall, Watch Out for Zika, Flu, and Bats

Now that Northern Kentucky children are back in school, many families are adapting to new routines, with bus pick-ups, fall sports, and nightly homework sessions.

But your new routines can easily be disrupted by illness, which also increase as children head back to school. Some tips to help keep your family healthy this fall.

Zika Virus

The Health Department continues to monitor for Zika virus globally and locally. Zika virus is transmitted primarily through the bite of infected mosquitoes. To date, all cases of Zika in Northern Kentucky have been linked to travel outside the United States.

But, the potential for Zika to be transmitted to mosquitoes in Northern Kentucky exists.  So, we all need to take steps to fight the bite.

This includes taking steps to eliminate potential breeding areas for mosquitoes in your yard, such as birdbaths, clogged gutters, kiddie pools, old tires, flower pots or even Fido’s water bowl, by emptying these items or changing out water every few days. You can also apply a mosquito larvicide, purchased at local hardware stores, to areas of standing water. 

Northern Kentucky families should also take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes throughout both day and night. Use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered mosquito repellent. When you can, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outside—something that will get a bit easier to do as the weather turns cooler!

If your autumn travel plans include an area where Zika has been found, watch for the symptoms of the virus even after you return, which include fever, rash, red eyes and joint pain, and see your health care provider if you become ill. Whether you have symptoms or not, be sure to be diligent with actions to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks after you return so you don’t spread Zika to our local mosquitoes. 

Whooping cough

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, continues to circulate in our community. Northern Kentucky has had more than 250 cases reported since last November.

Protect your family by making sure that all members are vaccinated as recommended for their age. Most people can get vaccinated for free at the Health Department’s county health centers.

Seasonal flu

October 1 marks the beginning of flu season. Anyone age 6 months and older should get an annual flu vaccine. There are lots of choices about which vaccine to get, it’s available at many pharmacies, doctors’ offices and clinics, and most people can get it for little or no cost.

Take everyday preventive actions as well to avoid respiratory illnesses, like covering coughs and sneezes, staying away from sick people and washing your hands often.

Bats and Rabies

Many stray and wild animals can also be a source of rabies exposure, but in Kentucky, rabies has been identified in bats more frequently than other animals, with 3 positive bats found locally already this year. Avoid contact with bats and other wild animals. If you know of anyone who has been exposed to a bat, please contact the Health Department to help determine the rabies risk. Bat bites are very small and frequently go unnoticed.

For more information on these topics and a variety of others, please visit www.nkyhealth.org. Whether you break out the bug spray or roll up your sleeve for a vaccination, I hope you fall into good health habits this autumn! 

Written by Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health