Managing Zika fears means knowing the real stakes


February 2, 2016

Aedes aegypti photo from

Aedes aegypti can spread yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika and other diseases. Photo: ©

Any customers asking you about the dreaded Zika virus yet? As spring slowly (sloooooowly) draws closer, you’ve probably come to terms with the fact that it’s only a matter of time. How to go about easing their minds? Well, you could always tamp down their concerns by giving them a list of more reasonable things to worry about.

This is not to say, of course, Zika is not worry-worthy. It certainly is. But like most things the mass media digs its collective nails into, perspective on the topic seems a bit wobbly.

I’m no doctor, nor am I a pest management professional. However, as a citizen of planet Earth, I’m fully aware of the fact that most things we’re encouraged to worry about often take the focus off of dangers that might be more relevant or insidious. You can decide for yourself if pointing out more imminent dangers to Zika-fearing customers is good for business or not, but at the very least, you may prevent someone from flying into a panic after receiving their first seasonal bug bite.

True, that if you live and work in Latin America or parts of the Caribbean, the dangers of Zika are real and tangible, however, in most parts of the U.S., full-throated panic is unnecessary as well as unhelpful. The World Health Organization has issued its alert, which explains as many as 4 million people could be infected by the virus over the next year. And as viruses go, Zika is especially diabolical causing birth defects in unborn children that can lead to lifelong disability.

BUT, you might want to remind your customers that U.S. health officials find it unlikely that Zika will spread much stateside. Though small occasional outbreaks are anticipated, they will likely stem from travelers infected with Zika bringing it into the U.S. – and then being bitten by mosquitoes that spread the virus. Even that risk is essentially only of concern to those in the Deep South, as the mosquito that carries the virus — Aedes aegypti — doesn’t live in colder climates. Furthermore, approximately 80 percent of people infected by Zika don’t feel sick. Most of the real risk is reserved for pregnant women.

If your customers are going to live in fear, perhaps you’ll consider steering their fear toward something a bit more urgent. West Nile virus for example offers some tangible reasons to be afraid, not least of which is the fact that since its introduction to the U.S. in 1999, it quickly spread to all 48 continental states. In the years since then it’s done plenty of damage, causing severe illness in tens of thousands and killing hundreds.

Zika is no joke, to be sure. But its also not the most vile of infectious viruses scratching at the screen doors of your customers … though, that might not be clear due to some of the breathless appeals to fear still jamming mass media news airwaves.


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