Arboviruses transmitted by day-biting Aedes mosquitoes are a major public health concern. With the challenges inherent in arbovirus vaccine and therapeutics development, vector control and bite prevention strategies are among the limited options available for immediate intervention. Bite prevention through personal protective technologies (PPT), such as topical mosquito repellents or repellent-impregnated clothing, may help to decrease biting rates and, therefore, the risk of disease in groups most susceptible to adverse outcomes from Zika virus. However, achieving high uptake and compliance with PPT can be challenging.
To gain an insight into the knowledge and concerns of pregnant women surrounding Zika and their opinions regarding PPT, particularly repellent clothing, a focus group study was carried out with pregnant women, women of reproductive age, and semi-structured interviews with their male partners in two cities in Colombia. The discussions revealed shortfalls in basic knowledge of Zika virus, with several pregnant participants reporting being unaware of the potential for Zika-related congenital malformations. Although participants generally considered Zika to be a significant personal threat, most rated it as less of a concern than dengue or diarrheal diseases. Overall, repellent clothing and other forms of PPT were viewed as effective, although some participants expressed concerns over the high costs of repellents, and safety fears of regular contact with repellent chemicals, which they perceived as potentially harmful. Plant-derived repellents were considered to be safer than synthetic chemical repellents. Discussions also highlighted that health centers were the preferred source of information on bite-reduction.
Achieving high uptake and compliance with PPT in populations most at risk of adverse outcomes from Zika infection requires engaging key users in open dialogue to identify and address any practical issues regarding PPT use, and concerns over safety. The findings presented here suggest that educational campaigns should strongly emphasize the risks associated with Zika during pregnancy, and discuss safety profiles of approved synthetic repellents and the availability of EPA-approved plant-based repellents. In addition, the economic and political context should be a major consideration when evaluating personal mosquito-repellent strategies.