Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has presented a plan to protect residents from the potential threat of Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Astorino presented the plan at a playground at Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla on Thursday.
“What we’re doing is we’re developing a very comprehensive plan that includes education, surveillance and mosquito control,” Astorino says. “And we know that mosquitoes have no clue about borders so we’re also making sure we coordinate this effort with the surrounding counties.”
He says health departments are coordinating a response. Westchester County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler says recently there was a meeting with health officials from lower Hudson Valley counties.
“We came together and we discussed how we’ve handled mosquito surveillance and mosquito control in the past and how we might change that in the future,” Amler says. “So we’re learning from each other.”
Astorino stressed there are no known locally originated cases of Zika in Westchester or, for that matter, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S. There have been two Zika cases in Westchester where the virus was contracted out of the country. Again, Amler.
“The most common way that Zika is transmitted is through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito,” Amler says. “And while this species of mosquito has not been found in Westchester County, we do have a related mosquito in the same genus — ades albopictus — often called the Asian tiger mosquito.”
There is no antiviral medication for Zika, which can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby during pregnancy or at the time of birth, with severe birth defects possible. The virus also can be spread via sexual contact or blood. Westchester County’s plan to defend against mosquito-borne illness includes applying larvacide to catch basins on county and municipal roads. This already has been done in half the county. It also includes giving residents free minnows for backyard ponds and other water sites with a bit of depth. So far, says Astorino, the county has given away 100 pounds of minnows to more than 100 residents. Peter DeLucia is the county’s assistant commissioner for environmental health.
“And they eat more than their body weight every day in mosquito larvae. That’s what they love to eat,” says DeLucia. “They’re fantastic little organic mosquito-eating machines.”
Delucia says a new part of the plan includes doubling trap sites.
“We’re going to have 20 trap sites with all of our types of mosquito traps out there. And these mosquito traps are designed specifically to collect female mosquitoes either ready to lay eggs, which are we call these our gravid traps that have water in them where they’d be looking to lay the eggs and then they sucked up in to the traps so we can test them,” says DeLucia. “And other traps, like we have right out here, the one that, it has the white lid on it, that has a specific lure on it that makes the mosquito thinks it’s a mammal, it makes it think it’s one of us, so hopefully they’re going to trap more of the Asian tiger mosquitoes so we can kind of get an idea of where these mosquitoes are within our county.”
“The good news is over the years that we’ve been trapping back over the last 10, 15 years we’ve had a trapping program, it’s very rare for us to trap an Asian tiger mosquito in Westchester County. It’s typically more of a southern mosquito. They have been expanding their range a little bit. They don’t really over-winter too well especially if we have a really cold winter without a lot of snow,” says DeLucia. “But what we want to do in New York state and in Westchester County is find out where that dividing line is. Do we find any Asian tigers above 287 [, do we find any in Rockland County and things like that.”
Astorino speaks to another new part of the plan.
“In the event that a positive mosquito pool or a locally acquired case is identified, then we’ll do targeted ground spraying in a very focused area,” Astorino says.
They called on residents to be proactive, by keeping property clear of potential mosquito breeding sites, like standing water, and protecting themselves with a bug repellent. DeLucia notes it takes it take seven-to-10 days to go from an egg to a biting adult mosquito.
Prior to 2015, outbreaks of the virus had occurred only in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, the first confirmed cases were reported in Brazil. Now there are outbreaks in many countries and territories, including Puerto Rico, and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. With the summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil scheduled for August, Amler recommends that to avoid exposure to Zika, pregnant women avoid travel to areas where Zika is found, including Brazil. She also advises the following.
“CDC is recommending that if you travel to an area where Zika is present that when you return to your home that you use insect repellent for three weeks following your return because we don’t want local mosquitoes biting you and become infected with the Zika virus,” Amler says.
The county is giving away free minnows and larvacide tablets, known as dunks, at the Westchester County Airport (Loop Road, Building 2) until 6 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Otherwise, residents can get free larvacide tablets by calling 1-888-364-4723.