NY Gears Up For Zika Fight, CDC Issues Report

Mar 18, 2016

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported nine additional Zika infections in pregnant women in the United States, while 49 verified cases of Zika in New Your State have prompted a response from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Zika virus is not yet spreading in the continental USA. Nevertheless, Cuomo and the state Health Department have deployed a six-step plan to fight Zika should it reach New York state. At least 258 U.S. travelers have been infected with Zika while visiting the Caribbean or South America. The Aedes species of mosquito known to carry Zika is usually only found near New York City; Dutchess and Ulster counties are being monitored for any possible northward spread of those particular insects.  Although researchers think it is not likely that New York mosquitoes will carry the disease, Cuomo is erring on the side of caution:  "Prudence dictates that we are prepared for all circumstances, and that's exactly what the department of health is doing."

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says New York's effort begins with an initiative to eliminate the mosquito at its source via distribution of larvicide tablets for standing water... "...such as flower pots, and remove sources of standing water such as old tires, children's toys, plastic containers, and even clogged gutters, especially after it rains when water usually accumulates in those areas."

Zucker says one tablet will last from 2 to 3 months. He adds that 80 percent of those who become infected with the virus show no symptoms. 

The most pressing concern has been Zika diagnosis in pregnant women.  "The main danger of the Zika virus is a birth defect which is known as microcephaly in the fetuses of women who are infected while they are pregnant."

Free Zika protection kits will be given to pregnant women in the target zone. The Zika protection kits contain educational materials, insect repellent, condoms and larvicide tablets to treat standing water. A total 20,000 kits will initially be distributed to healthcare providers throughout the region: New York City; Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster, Sullivan, Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

The CDC is reviewing 18 cases involving pregnant women:  All of them had traveled to an area with a Zika outbreak. A CDC report on the first 9 victims indicates two are still pregnant.  One woman gave birth to a baby with microcephaly, with its signature small head and incomplete brain development. Two other women miscarried, two aborted and two gave birth to healthy babies.

Response at county health department levels cannot yet be fully gauged: some, like Westchester, already have mosquito surveillance programs in place and are leaning toward enhancing them. Others are either just staying abreast of the crisis for the time being or waiting to see what kind of funding may become available.

Mosquito season begins in April.