Zika virus may be more dangerous than we thought. The first Zika-related death in the U.S. was reported last week. While communities beef up mosquito control efforts, an upstate Congressman wants more federal funding to fight Zika.
Health officials agree that with summer coming on, it's a matter of time before the U.S. sees its first case of mosquito-borne Zika. Most folks in the northern United States thought they were relatively safe. Its main method of transmission, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, prefers warmer climates, although the species has been known to appear as far north as Westchester County. Now researchers have discovered Zika in a second species that ranges as far north as Maine and Minnesota. Mosquito season in the Northeast becomes active very quickly in June.
A White House request for $1.9 billion in funding to fight Zika has stalled in Congress, due back in session May 9. Speaking on WAMC’s Congressional Corner, Congressman Paul Tonko, a Capital Region Democrat, says there are well over 400 cases across the U.S. involving travelers who contracted the virus in other countries. "There's a great number, 70 some, from New York alone. And you know some of the health-related groups have indicated from the federal perspective that it could be a greater issue, a more threatening issue than they imagined."
This week it was revealed a person who had visited South America returned to Oneida County with Zika, the first confirmed case in that county.
In Albany County, the Department of Health began collaborating in February with partners at the New York State Department of Health and county healthcare providers to coordinate a local response.
The Westchester County Health Department has taken steps to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and prevent the spread of West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Peter DeLucia is the assistant Commissioner for Public Health Protection. "All of these mosquitoes are basically very short fliers, they don't have a long distance, and a lot of times they're actually breeding on your porperty. So what you need to do is make sure you don't have any standing water. These mosquitoes can go from an egg to a biting adult within 7 to 10 days."
DeLucia says birdbaths, gutters, and swimming pool covers that have puddles of water on top, all make excellent breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The county is holding six "mosquito control days" at the airport where residents can pick up free minnows and mosquito dunks. Westchester officials are also keen on mosquito surveillance. "Every year we put traps out and we collect the mosquitoes, we actually identify them, we speciate them, and then we send them to the lab to see if they're carrying any viruses."
Westchester Health Department staff will be available at the airport evnets to answer questions and give out “Keep Healthy and Bug Off” brochures, which offer advice on how residents can prevent mosquito bites and eliminate standing water around their homes to keep mosquitoes from breeding nearby.
Residents with ponds who want the minnows should bring a bucket or pail to 2 Loop Road at the Westchester County Airport. The building is the first right from the airport access road. Minnows will be distributed in watertight plastic bags, and residents should plan to bring them straight home and release them into ponds with at least eight inches of water.
- Wednesday - Friday, May 4 - 6, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Thursday - Friday, May 19 - 20, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Saturday - May 21, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To eliminate breeding sites, the health department will begin to apply larvicide to catch basins that hold standing water but are clear of debris starting Monday, May 9th.
- The New York State Department of Health Zika virus information line is 1-888-364-4723.
Before 2015, outbreaks of Zika had occurred only in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Last May the first confirmed cases were reported in Brazil. Congressman Tonko says the need for federal funding is urgent. "That virus needs to be addressed. There has not been a good plan put forth. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, assuming that we're going to move dollars from emergency services or from Ebola as a separate item, and not committing to the response that is essential and required of us, is not getting work done."
The clock is ticking before the onslaught of mosquito season. More officials are recognizing the need to pump dollars into Zika research now: after authorities confirmed the first death in Puerto Rico, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal joined Tonko and others in demanding Congress fund efforts to battle the disease.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio addressed the issue last week in a Senate floor speech. "Now the president has asked for $1.9 billion in funding, and I am generally supportive of that request. I believe we need to deal with these issues on the front end. As quickly as possible. What we don't want to do is wake up one morning to the realization that you're now in the middle of summer, this has become an epidemic or a catastrophe, and we didn't do anything on the front end."
On another occasion, Rubio noted mosquitoes bite everyone — without asking what your party registration is.
Protect yourself from Zika and other viruses spread by mosquitoes:
- The best way to prevent Zika and other viruses spread through mosquito bites is to take steps to prevent mosquito bites. If you are pregnant, strictly follow these steps:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in places with air conditioning and use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
For more information about how to prevent mosquito bites, see Mosquito Bite Prevention (United States)[PDF - 2 pages].
What we know:
- No vaccine exists to prevent Zika virus disease (Zika).
- Prevent Zika by avoiding mosquito bites.
- Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime.
- Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus also spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
- Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex