By Kim Knowlton
The news on Zika virus in the U.S. isn't good at all this week.
The outbreak in Puerto Rico is raising huge concerns. There have been more than 5,000 cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus reported to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Puerto Rico, but it's feared that number is an under-estimate and meanwhile, case numbers there are skyrocketing.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can carry the Zika virus.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
There are now reports of locally-transmitted Zika cases in Florida.
Miami-Dade County is listed today as an area of active Zika transmission, meaning mosquitoes are carrying the Zika virus locally, biting uninfected people who have then become infected. That brings the number of people Zika-infected in Florida to 14. The CDC is urging pregnant women to stay away from certain neighborhoods of Miami.
Until now, the cases of Zika reported in the U.S. have been "imported" by travelers—this happens when people infected by Zika elsewhere return home and develop symptoms. As of July 27, more than 1,600 cases of this "travel-associated" Zika had been reported in the lower 48 states. This highlights the rapid connection between disease outbreaks and distant communities, with so many of us traveling internationally these days.
Babies are being born with microcephaly to Zika-infected mothers in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Central and South America. And just last week, we learned that Zika can be sexually transmitted both in men's sperm and from women to men.
The two mosquito species that can transmit Zika are notoriously tough to control. Zika is carried by Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus mosquitoes, aggressive daytime biters that bear a distinct white striping on their bodies and legs. Ae. albopictus is more widely found throughout the U.S. plus its range is expanding rapidly. Ae. aegypti is currently found mainly—but not only—in the southern half of the country. According to the CDC, more than 26 states and the District of Columbia reported populations of Ae. aegypti andAe. albopictus was found in at least 38 states and the District.
Many people had assumed that Zika wouldn't be a widespread threat across much of the U.S., since most of us—even in summer—spend the majority of our time in screened-in or air-conditioned homes, schools and offices. The tragic stories of locally-transmitted cases of Zika virus in Puerto Rico and Florida show that U.S. communities are not immune to health risks from Zika infection. Besides its links to birth defects in babies, Zika-infected adults can develop Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which the body's immune system attacks its own nerves to potentially cause paralysis.
The main Zika carrier, Ae. aegypti, may be able to migrate to new cities more readily because of favorable summertime weather. An excellent map developed earlier this year by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and published in PLOS Currents-Outbreaks, shows that during the summer, many U.S. cities may risk low, moderate or high populations of the Zika-transmitting mosquitos. In addition, Zika risk may be elevated in cities that receive more air travelers from Latin America and the Caribbean who may have been exposed to Zika.
Climate Change Fuels More Hot Days and Longer Mosquito-Active Seasons
And into this complex picture, climate change seems to be fueling more warm-weather days when mosquitoes are active and biting.
A new analysis by Climate Central highlights that the number of days hot and humid enough for mosquitoes to be active and biting has increased in many big U.S. cities—and climate change will further increase those numbers, in most locations. In their analysis, the ten cities with the biggest increase in the length of the mosquito season over the last 30 years were: Baltimore, Maryland; Durham, North Carolina; Minneapolis; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; Portland, Maine; St. Louis; Pittsburgh; Worcester, Massachusetts ; and Albany, New York. These cities cover a huge swath of the eastern U.S. Nationwide, 76 percent of major cities have seen their mosquito season get longer over that time.
This adds a whole other dimension to the public health challenges of Zika: climate change could make more areas of the U.S. more susceptible to this and other mosquito-borne pathogens in the future. Increased heat, disrupted precipitation patterns and higher humidity can allow mosquitoes to thrive in new places, as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported in our Fever Pitch report about dengue fever, another infectious viral disease that can be carried by the same two Aedes mosquito species. Warmer temperatures enable mosquitoes to develop more quickly and to incubate viruses that can infect people faster. Thus, climate change can hasten the spread of many infectious diseases, including Zika.
What Can We Do to Contain the Spread of Zika?
While mosquito-borne disease is a real threat to public health, widespread pesticide use alone is not the best approach, as my NRDC colleague Jennifer Sass explains in her blog this week. There are commonsense measures we can take to limit our exposure to mosquitos and protect ourselves from the pathogens they carry:
- Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and long pants, in lighter colors.
- Apply personal mosquito repellant, such as 20 to 30 percent DEET or other recommended formulations in the morning and early evening.
- Use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of homes.
- Every week, inspect the inside and outside of your home for standing water and eliminate it. This includes flowerpots, tires, buckets, planters, toys, birdbaths, empty garbage cans and lids, etc.
- Stop infected people from getting further mosquito bites to prevent spreading the disease to more mosquitoes.
The federal government proposed a Zika response: developing a vaccine; diagnostic tests; and national tracking databases for the virus, mosquitoes and infected people. But Congress has yet to approve funding to respond to Zika's public health threat. It's urgent that our elected officials support the strongest possible action and funding on Zika.
Developing safe, rapid responses to the public health challenge of Zika could be huge opportunities to boost community preparedness against emerging infectious diseases, which are likely to increase under a changing climate. It stands to reason that taking action now to trim heat-trapping carbon pollution emissions also takes a bite out of climate change and helps limit its contribution to the emergence and spread of new mosquito-borne diseases.
Kim Knowlton is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Michael Svoboda
The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.
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By Julia Conley
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By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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