Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that is sweeping parts of South America.

Zika virus has many Americans on edge

By: Abby Hayes, March 22, 2016

Spring may have just arrived, but before you know it, summer will be here, bringing seasonal temperatures along with it. While the warmth is always welcomed, mosquitoes never are, if for no other reason than the itchy bites they're infamous for.

This year, however, a number of Americans are concerned about mosquitoes bites being more than a simple nuisance. That's because many of these microscopic insects are carrying a virus with significant health consequences.

Approximately 50 percent of Americans are worried that the Zika virus may spread to their community. That's according to a recent poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

"Zika virus can cause birth defects for pregnant women."

Primarily identified in South America, Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that primarily spreads through the insect's saliva. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common symptoms include joint pain, rash and red eyes. While these side-effects are usually mild, Zika has also been tied to more serious health complications, particularly for women who are pregnant. For instance, Zika can lead to birth defects.

It's these more dire health complications that have some people worried.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, emphasized that knowledge is power. In other words, the more informed people are about Zika, the safer they'll be.

"Understanding science matters," Jamieson explained. "If people want accurate information about Zika they should turn to the CDC."

She added that there are also a lot of misconceptions about what Zika can cause. Americans should do their own research, from official sources, before coming to any conclusions.

Should Zika spread, many people are confident the health community will be up to the challenge. The poll found that almost 66 percent of respondents were optimistic the CDC will have a vaccine before the summer ends. It's unknown if individual health insurance coverage will provide for the cost.

How you can protect yourself

"Wear light-colored clothing to keep mosquitoes away."

In the meantime, there are lots of strategies you can use to guard against mosquito bites this summer, health officials advise. For example, be sure to use plenty of bug spray on any exposed skin. This serves as a protective coating that's toxic to mosquitoes. It's also highly recommended to wear the right clothing. Ideally, opt for light-colored shirts, socks and pants.

Mosquito netting serves as another protective barrier. Nets are especially important in the evening or if you're camping.

Though there have been confirmed Zika cases in the United States – over 400, according to the CDC – the vast majority of them have been in Latin America. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been providing assistance where it's needed. HHS, which also maintains the federal marketplace website that provides health insurance estimates, has shipped blood products to Puerto Rico as a proactive measure.

"Availability of safe blood products for the residents of Puerto Rico is a major priority for HHS," said Karen DeSalvo, acting secretary at HHS. "We are arranging the importation of blood products from areas unaffected by local Zika transmission to ensure the safety of Puerto Rico's blood supply."