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Southerners Brace For Mosquito Season With Fears Of Zika

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Staying in the South for just a few more minutes, summer is just about here. And in the South, that means mosquito season. Women who are pregnant of or thinking of getting pregnant are increasingly worried about the Zika virus, which the CDC has linked to birth defects. So far, 500 Zika cases have been reported in the U.S., all travel related. Thirteen of those cases have been in Georgia. From WABE in Atlanta, Michell Eloy reports on the advice that doctors and the CDC are giving to women.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi, nice to meet you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm good.

MICHELL ELOY, BYLINE: A few weeks ago, Katy Mallory welcomed me into her home on a sunny Saturday. Despite the welcome, she was ready to leave for the hospital.

KATY MALLORY: If we need to get our bags, we actually have them in the car already.

ELOY: Mallory was in the final days of pregnancy with twin girls and had the babies a few days after we sat down. Her pregnancy was relatively routine, except for one twist. Earlier this year, Mallory's husband Dan traveled to Mexico for business. Dan says in the middle of his trip, news hit that Zika could be sexually transmitted. So when he returned, the couple decided to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation - use condoms during sex.

K. MALLORY: It was a little bit weird to think about needing to use protection having been together for 10 years and not having had that conversation in a really, really, really long time.

ELOY: Dan says is while they knew the risk of him having Zika was minimal...

DAN MALLORY: Fear of the unknown I think was enough to cause pause and be pretty...

K. MALLORY: Conservative.

D. MALLORY: ...Be pretty careful.

ELOY: In downtown Atlanta, Sarah Grzywacz, who's seven months pregnant, also acted on her Zika worries. She and her husband canceled a trip to Mexico after consulting with her doctor.

SARAH GRYZWACZ: One bite can do it. One bite and you can be infected, and this child that we so carefully planned for and deeply wanted could be forever changed and forever injured by our desire to have a vacation.

ELOY: But Grzywacz also worries about the mosquitoes here in Georgia. Health officials say the U.S. could see small local clusters of the Zika virus in warmer climates, so Grzywacz careful. She stays inside as much as possible and wears pants and long-sleeved shirts. She also knows the risk of getting Zika is very, very small.

GRYZWACZ: But we feel mostly powerless to control what happens because it's mosquito bites. How can you go outside in the summer and not get bitten by a mosquito?

ELOY: Some women say they're holding off on pregnancy altogether this year, says Dr. John Horton, a gynecologist at Emory Healthcare.

JOHN HORTON: This summer, do I need a full-body net? That is everyone's question.

ELOY: Of course, there's no need for nets, Horton says. But he understands why women are so worried. At this point though, unless a woman has traveled to an affected country, Horton would not recommend delaying pregnancy because of Zika.

HORTON: I recognize it's on, like, our Caribbean door. But we haven't seen it yet, and it may not come.

ELOY: Horton points out the mosquitoes that carry Zika also carry viruses like dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya. Those haven't spread in the U.S. in part because people here better shielded from mosquitoes with screens and air-conditioning.

HORTON: If it gets here, we will figure this out.

ELOY: That if though has state health officials on alert. Georgia has set up mosquito traps to figure out where Zika risks might exist. There's also a public service campaign on ways to prevent mosquito breeding, says Department of Public Health head Brenda Fitzgerald.

BRENDA FITZGERALD: Toss any container around your home that you're not using. Make sure you empty your gutters. Make sure you get rid of any standing water.

ELOY: Fitzgerald says right now the biggest risk to pregnant women is travel. The CDC recommends women wait eight weeks after traveling to a Zika-infected country to conceive. If a woman's male partner shows symptoms of Zika, the couple should wait six months. And here in Atlanta, health officials are on heightened alert. Its airport hit a record 100 million passengers last year, so they're advising everybody - pregnant or not - to lather on the bug spray this summer when they come home. For NPR News, I'm Michell Eloy in Atlanta.

MARTIN: This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, WABE and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.