How to Reduce Zika Virus Risk Naturally

How to Reduce Zika Virus Risk Naturally

Holli Lapes, RD, LD/N

Today’s blog post will discuss some natural ways to stay safe from mosquitoes whether you are
traveling or at home. There is currently an active outbreak of the Zika virus in North America. At this time, there are no treatments or vaccines available.

The Zika virus is a member of the virus family Flaviviridae and is related to the yellow fever and West Nile viruses. The name originates from the Zika Forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in the 1940’s.

The current outbreak was first detected in Brazil in 2015. Zika is spread by Aedes mosquitoes, such as A. aegypti and A. albopictus. These Zika-carrying mosquitoes bite people primarily during daytime hours, as that is when they are most active, but they can also bite at night. These mosquitoes thrive in tropical regions such as Puerto Rico and have been detected in Florida.1

Reports of the Zika virus are increasing in the South Florida area with infected individuals in Miami, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. The majority of infected individuals will have no symptoms but may experience fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Another complication of the virus is Guillain-Barre syndrome.1 Pregnant women, woman interested in becoming pregnant, and their spouses, should be especially cautious during the outbreak, due to the birth defects that the virus can cause.1

Natural Repellents

When it comes to bug spray, DEET may come to mind. It’s touted as being the gold standard because of its effectiveness and long-lasting qualities.2,3 Many people have reservations when it comes to the use of DEET because it’s not eco-friendly and has a questionable safety record for human use.3 Despite these concerns, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) concludes that DEET is generally safer than many people assume.4

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (chemical name: para-menthane-3,8-diol), the synthesized version of OLE has been shown to be an effective repellent. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) recommend OLE as a safe and effective alternative to DEET. The caveat is that “pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended by these agencies. 2,4

Essential oils that are put directly on the skin may cause irritation, especially in the presence of sunlight.5 Additionally, essential oils tend to be highly volatile and thus can evaporate quickly, which is limiting for continued support / duration of use.3,5 In contrast, synthetic repellents have a low rate of vaporization. 3

There are some strategies to limit the rate of evaporation of essential oils, including the use of vanillin, salicylic acid and coconut oil which may help to promote long lasting repellency against mosquitoes.3Vanillin seems to be one of the best ways to increase the efficacy of these oils, as it is mentioned in several studies.3, 5, 6, 7 Essential oils including litsea, rosewood, and geranium have shown efficacy as a repellent against A. aegypti female mosquitoes.3 Unfortunately, the A. aegypti mosquito is one of the most resistant to repellents.8

Plants That Deter Pests

So, how do you keep things at bay in your neighborhood?

Aerial spraying is being done in parts of Florida and can be requested by residents in Broward County which has a website where you can fill out a ‘mosquito spray request form.9 Although some are more concerned about pesticides then they are about the virus.

There are some natural strategies to safeguard your home by creating a landscape of herbs and plants that deter pests because of their aroma and other factors. This can help minimize the chances that mosquitoes will lay eggs.

Citronella has been one of the most widely used natural repellents, but there is controversy as to its effectiveness.3,5 You can plant citronella around your home as well as lemon grass and catnip.3, 5, 10, 11, 12

Always wanted an herb garden? Now would be a good time to have one! Herbs such as rosemary, peppermint, and basil may be of help. 13,14

Other protective strategies for safeguarding yourself and your home: make sure there is no standing water — even a small amount (a few ounces) can encourage mosquitoes to reproduce. Wear tight-fitting clothing in order to minimize access to the mosquitoes.1

Manage Viral Invaders

Zika is an RNA virus and RNA viruses generally have very high mutation rates compared to DNA viruses. Other RNA viruses include the influenza virus and hepatitis C. 15, 16 You’ll want to keep your immune system strong during a viral outbreak by choosing some key nutrients.

Lactoferrin has been shown to inhibit viral infections by interfering with the ability of the viruses to bind to cell receptor sites and prevents entry of viruses into host cells. 17

EGCG in Green Tea has shown impressive results against the influenza virus by suppressing viral RNA synthesis.18

Reishi mushroom extract has been shown to support Natural Killer cells, which are responsible for destroying cells that are infected by viruses. This medicinal mushroom can also help to fight off viral infections. 19


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  19. Available at: accessed August 19, 2016.

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