Blood-Sucking Threats, Infections, Sex and More

Predator: Dr. Karen T., infectious disease expert

Discussion: It’s the perfect doomsday scenario. An infectious disease that spreads rapidly. No known cure. Killing or maiming those infected. Sound like a horror movie? It’s one coming to a street near you. From Ebola to Zika to past killers like the flu, infectious diseases are the world’s Public Enemy No. 1, killing way more than any terrorist fanatic.

Microscopic bacteria and pesky mosquitos are the ultimate sleeper cells of infectious diseases, including the latest news darling – the Zika virus. Zika, now a global public health emergency, is spreading rapidly, transmitted by mosquitos. New cases of Zika virus are reported to spread through sex in the United States. When pregnant women are infected, the virus is thought to be the cause of infants being born with small heads and underdeveloped brains.

What can you do to keep yourself and those you care about disease free? Predator has you covered from Zika to the dreaded Ebola to Akhmeta, a new virus related to smallpox that was discovered last year. Dr. T. observes there are basic steps for detection and prevention for most infectious diseases. Know the standard operating procedure (S.O.P.). Identify signs and symptoms. Assess the situation. Have a plan. Take on those blood-suckers, flesh-eaters and bone-chillers.

The Wide World of Infectious Diseases

Safety basics: It boils down to a few universal basics. Hygiene, avoid mosquito bites, avoid contact with body fluids of those who are sick, and would you believe – safe sex!

We’ll get to the details when we address specific infectious diseases, but let’s first focus on the big H – Hygiene. Remember what your mother told you? Wash your hands.

The single best way to prevent the spread of infection is by washing your hands. At least 20 seconds. Often. With soap. Even if you wear gloves with handling someone who is sick. When you remove the gloves… wash your hands!

This won’t combat mosquitos. We’ll discuss Mosquito 101 later on. But a whole bunch of infectious diseases travel in germ packs. You can slam them to the ground with this approach.

Viruses can live from 20 minutes to two hours on surfaces. They’re everywhere. You might want to think about greeting someone with a nod and air kisses instead of a handshake or a hug. Touch is one of the main ways of transmitting germs.

Sanitize, especially during the time of year when you’re more likely to be inside because of the weather. Use soap and water. Consider carrying antimicrobial hand sanitizer, but realize it won’t kill some of the nastier germs. Like the bacterium called Clostridium difficile, or as hospitals affectionately say “c diff.” This nasty critter causes anything from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. You were warned.

If it’s electronics, use soap and water where you can. Antibacterial wipes where you have to. The average desktop holds 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat. The remote control –

it’s a germ-fest. If you’re traveling, it makes sense to cover the remote with those shower caps hotels give you and no one uses. Other primetime places germs play are phones, keyboards, game controllers and other often-used electronics.

In public places, it’s door knobs, railings, anywhere someone might have touched, eaten off of, or sat on. Or handled. Like grocery carts, gas pumps, ATM machines, crosswalk buttons, vending machines, parking meters.

Oh, did we mention money? And here’s a few odd ones. Car dashboards. Your welcome mat. The soles on almost everyone’s shoe carry traces of coliform, including fecal bacteria. Yep, those trips to bathroom by your guests just walked into your house.

The Ebola discussion that follows has great tips for contact. In general, use common sense. If you suspect someone may have an infectious disease, get professional help.

Non-sterile latex gloves may help, but the best course of action is to call the experts. If you suspect someone has such a condition, DO NOT touch any body fluids! Read on for specific infectious disease signs, symptoms, assessment and plan of actions.


The Zika virus is popping up in numerous states across the U.S. So far, those infected are believed to have carried the disease with them from outside the country. But give it time. Our mosquitos are just as hungry as those in other countries.

Conditions in warmer states will allow the virus to spread by mosquito to human contact. Three to four million people could be exposed to Zika in the next 12 months, estimates a World Health Organization official.

Large numbers of people in Brazil began becoming infected with Zika last May, and that’s where serious complications, including a potential connection to a rare nerve disorder, Guillain-Barre, were first detected.

Having Zika while pregnant is thought to harm the developing fetus. Infants are born with small heads and underdeveloped brains, a condition known as microcephaly. In less than a year, over 20 countries have reported home-grown cases of Zika.

Transmission: The major way Zika is transmitted is through a mosquito bite. Sex is also thought to be a potential transmission vehicle.

The Aedes mosquito behind Zika virus operates like a heat-seeking disease missile. This carrier of doom likes it hot and carries a host of dangerous illnesses in addition to Zika like dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Such an over-sharer. The hotter the weather, the more likely the insect can spread the disease.

Higher temperatures encourage more mosquitos who mature more rapidly and feed more often, resulting in one hot mess.

Not only is Zika transmitted by our buddy the Aedes mosquito, there’s evidence you can get the the virus by having sex with someone infected with the virus.

The jury is still out about transmission through blood transfusions.

Signs and symptoms: Similar clinical signs to dengue fever, and can be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common. About 1 in 5 who are infected with Zika virus become ill. Incubation period from exposure to symptoms thought to be a few days to a week. Zika is rarely fatal. The virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week, but can be found longer in some.

Visual – mild fever and rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes).

Physical – muscle pain, joint pain, pain behind the eyes, headache


Another mosquito-borne infectious disease. Dengue infects as many as 400 million a year, about 25 percent who end up in the hospital. Most prevalent in Asia and Africa, the disease is also found in parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean and Mexico.

Most U.S. cases are from people who contracted the infection while traveling abroad. But risks are increasing for those living along the Texas-Mexico border and the southern U.S. An outbreak of dengue fever did occur in Key West, FL, in 2009. 

Signs and symptoms

Visual – high fever (as much as 105°F), rash over most of body, mild bleeding from nose or gums, easily bruising

Physical – muscle and/or bone pain, joint pain, pain behind the eyes, severe headache


Another mosquito-borne infectious disease spread by the Aedes mosquito. Mostly found in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, chikungunya appeared in the Americas for the first time in 2013 in the Caribbean islands.

Signs and symptoms

Visual – fever, rash, joint swelling

Physical – muscle pain, joint pain, headache


Malaria is spread by the Aedes’ relative, the Anopheles mosquito – to the tune of nearly 200 million cases in 2013 and half a million deaths. If you notice, symptoms for malaria, Zika and other infectious diseases can overlap. A third type of mosquito, the Culex, spreads its share of diseases, too.

If you really care, there are physical differences in the way all three mosquitos look. Do you really want to get that up close and personal? Best case, get rid of mosquitos. That’s step 1 in prevention!

Signs and symptoms

Visual – shaking chills (moderate to severe), high fever, profuse sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions

Physical – muscle pain, headache, anemia

Plan (aka Mosquito 101): The United States is actually at a lower risk for many mosquito-borne infectious diseases because of aggressive mosquito control programs. But, like West-Nile disease, Zika and other mosquito-borne infectious diseases are still a concern.

Here are some effective prevention steps:

  • Destroy mosquito breeding grounds at home and at workplace. Empty standing water from flowerpots, buckets and other containers.
  • Clean up litter. Small containers make perfect mosquito baby factories.
  • Use insect repellents. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide long-lasting protection.
    • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
    • Treat clothing with permethrin, or purchase permethrin-treated clothing.
    • Follow the label instructions for insect repellent or sunscreen.
  • Wear long sleeved shirts and pants and light-colored clothing and stay in places with air conditioning or that have window and door screens when going into mosquito prone areas. Or sleep under a mosquito bed net.


How soon we forgot. Today it’s Zika. Only yesterday the tabloid media was all about Ebola. In the West Africa epidemic, 2 out of 5 people who contracted Ebola died.

In the U.S., the number of deaths were less. But the long-term effects of the disease are still being dealt with by the survivors.

Who’s most at risk? Friends and family of those infected and healthcare workers. The time of infection is usually 2 to 21 days after exposure, although the average is 8 to 10 days.

After 21 days, a person is said to be “safe” from contracting the infection. Antibodies in those who recovered are said to last for about 10 years.

Although West Africa is thought to be mostly free of Ebola, there are still sporadic appearances of the disease. There’s uncertainty if these are relapses or new cases.

Best case, be wary. This is one disease that has to be contained from the get go. Or it will wreck havoc on a community. Symptoms of malaria and Ebola are similar, which can result in infections being incorrectly diagnosed.

Transmission methods: Ebola is believed to have jumped from animals to humans at some point in Africa. In the West Africa outbreak, fruit bats are believed to have been the transmission source. In other outbreaks, apes and monkeys can be a source through contaminated meat. Other transmission methods:

  • Direct contact – only AFTER Ebola symptoms begin:
  • Body fluids of infected person – blood, vomit, poop, sweat, spit, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, other
  • Objects contaminated with virus – needles, medical equipment, bedding, clothes of infected person.
  • Possible sexual contact – semen from man recently recovered from Ebola (vaginal, anal or oral sex)

Signs and symptoms

Visual – high fever (sweating, shaking), diarrhea (possibly bloody), vomiting, unexplained bleeding or bruising, red eyes, raised rash, cough

Physical – fatigue, fever (CDC screening standard for U.S. airports non-contact thermometer reading of 100.4 degree Fahrenheit or higher), stomach pain, severe headache, muscle pain, chest pain, severe weight loss


  • Good hygiene. In an infected area or when traveling, wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Avoid contact with blood and body fluids, including sexual contact.
  • Do not handle items that may have come in contact with infected person’s blood or body fluids.
  • Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates, their blood and fluids and raw meat.
  • Avoid any overseas facilities where such patients are being treated.
  • For those traveling to areas with an outbreak, monitor health for 21 days and seek immediate medical help if potential Ebola symptoms develop. Notify healthcare workers of the potential for Ebola infection.


This infectious disease is new to humans. A respiratory virus it was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to several countries including the United States.

So far, all cases have been linked through travel or residence in countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula.

The largest known outbreak outside this area was in South Korea in 2015. People infected with MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) develop severe acute respiratory illness. 3 to 4 out of every 10 infected have died. The incubation period is thought to be about 5 or 6 days, but it can range from 2-14 days.

Transmission methods

Like other coronaviruses, MERS is thought to spread through coughing and other respiratory secretions from an infected person. The mechanisms are not well understood. MERS is spread through close contact, such as living with or caring for an infected individual.

Signs and symptoms: Fever, cough, shortness of breath, occasionally diarrhea and/or vomiting


  • Hygiene! Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Often. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean and sanitize frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as sink levers, doorknobs, etc.
  • Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Cover nose and mouth with a tissue when when coughing or sneezing. Discard all tissues in the trash.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.


This new species of pox viruses was discovered in the eastern European country of Georgia in 2013. Add another to the list of orthopoxviruses known to cause significant illness in humans, which include the dreaded smallpox (variola), vaccinia, monkeypox, and cowpox.

Most of these viruses occur mainly in animals. The discontinuation of the smallpox vaccine after the disease’s eradication in 1980 may have allowed other orthopoxviruses to emerge or re-emerge in humans. Akhmeta virus may be proof.

Transmission methods

The transmission is unknown at this time although small mammals, cows and humans in the Georgian regions of eastern Europe all have exhibited traces of similar viruses. The CDC Poxvirus Team is conducting a three-year study to understand how the new virus spreads.

So far, the virus is not thought to cause death or critical illness, but it’s good to monitor.

Signs and symptoms

Visual – subcutaneous skin lesions, fever


  • Good hygiene. In an infected area or when traveling, wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Avoid contact with individuals exhibiting symptoms. Avoid areas where there could be rodent droppings or animals potentially having this virus.

To sum it all up, know the signs and symptoms for infectious diseases. Have a plan to keep safe. Practice good hygiene. Avoid contact when there appears to be a threat. Identify potential threats in places you live and travel. Never let your guard down.

More to Follow!

(Featured Image Courtesy: WVXU)

  • Eric E
    Posted at 11:48h, 20 June

    Two of the best free resources are the CDC “Yellow Book” for travelers at and the U.S. State department website – basically – know before you go! I am an infectious disease physician and refer patients to these websites often. There are some professional websites that I use in my practice as well. Keep an eye on the yellow fever outbreak in Angola, and the threat of a vaccine shortage. That could be a big problem for travelers to Africa.

  • Escape the Wolf
    Posted at 15:03h, 06 May

    Thank you for your input!