Zika Virus: Don't Panic!
Attention to the Zika virus is picking up again in the run up to the summer Olympics being held in Brazil, the current ground zero of this mosquito borne infection. There was also a confirmed report this week out of New Jersey. Should pet parents be concerned?
Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (A. aegypti, A. africanus and A. albopictus). A. aegypti favors, not exclusively, the taste of humans while A. albopictus is not particular whose blood it drinks. Most humans who are infected by a carrier mosquito never become sick and those that do only have very mild symptoms (fever, headache, joint pain, rash). The primary risk from Zika is as a birth defect called microcephaly that can result in an underdeveloped brain and/or small head.
There is very little evidence of Zika infection in animals and what is available centers around apes and monkeys. Even in those cases, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) says there was no evidence of actual sickness nor of microcephaly birth defects. There is also no evidence of transmission of the infection from infected animals to humans. Of course, the caveat here is that though there are very few (and older) studies, the real world anecdotal/observed evidence is that our pets are not at risk.
Mosquitos carry other bad things so pet parents should still take care to avoid unnecessary exposure to the pests. Following standard practices for people (avoid standing water, walks at dawn/dusk, etc) works for pets too but do not use bug repellents with DEET or other chemicals marketed for humans. Some flea and tick products, like K9 Advantix and Bio Spot, are also designed to keep the nasties away (be aware that products for dogs can be lethal to cats, always read the instructions!)
There are any number of "natural" repellents sold for use on pets but our own personal experience with similar products designed for humans is they are probably a waste of money, at least at any location where there are more than a few bugs out and about. YMMV!