The first signs of spring have already arrived, and warmer temperatures also have city officials taking no chances in the fight against Zika. While city health commissioner Mary Bassett says she’s “cautiously optimistic” that Zika won’t be passed on in New York, she and Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio spoke via teleconference to mosquito experts in five states Wednesday to determine what, if anything, the city should be doing.
In the spring, Bassett says, the city will increase by 20 to 50 percent the number of traps used to catch (and ultimately test) the insects. Doing so will allow the city to track where different species are living. The type of mosquito that’s been spreading Zika in Latin America, called Aedes aegypti, is not found here, but a cousin, called Aedes albopictus or the Asian tiger mosquito, is, and scientists believe it’s also capable of transmitting the virus.
According to Politico, so far the city has no plans to spray more or differently from its normal treatments, but the Health Department is studying what kinds of insecticides to use and how, if it does opt to fight A. albopictus. Usually the city goes after a different genus of mosquito, the Culex, which carries West Nile virus, and that mosquito has a different breeding and biting pattern.
Officials are also urging New Yorkers to clean up standing water, where mosquitoes breed, and to make sure screens are installed in windows.
The Daily News reports that there have been 15 cases of Zika found in New York City to date, but all were contracted elsewhere. Zika causes mild symptoms in most people, but it has been linked to serious birth defects.
The state Department of Health also announced yesterday that it was expanding its free Zika testing program to include pregnant women who have had unprotected sex with partners who have recently traveled to Zika-infected areas. Testing was already available to pregnant women who traveled to a high-risk area, as well as to all people who developed symptoms within four weeks of traveling to such an area. The change came a day after the World Health Organization announced that sexual transmission of the virus is more common than previously believed.