Zika: What New Yorkers need to know

The species of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus have not yet made it as far north as the continental United States but they pose a risk to anyone who travels to affected areas, particularly women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Evidence suggests that the virus is linked to Latin America’s current microcephaly epidemic.

Zika is most often contracted through a mosquito bite, but also can be transmitted in utero, through sexual intercourse, and potentially through blood transfusions. Pregnant women, and all women of reproductive age, are advised to take precautions with partners who have recently travelled to the Caribbean, Central, or South America.

Only about one in five of those infected will show symptoms that may include fever, rash, joint pain and eye redness. The Centers for Disease Control advises the best prevention is to avoid getting bitten.

Although the risk of occupational exposure in a healthcare setting is minimal, as with any potential blood-borne pathogen, it is important to always follow standard precautions when handling bodily fluids or other potentially infectious materials.

A February 20 story in The New York Times warns that over the coming decades, global warming is likely to increase the geographic range and speed the life cycle of heat-loving mosquitoes like those that carry Zika, enabling them to survive in more temperate climates.

In the shorter term, the CDC estimates that the number of Zika cases likely will increase among travelers visiting or returning to the USA, and in some areas these imported cases may result in local spread of the virus. In early February, Governor Cuomo announced that New York would offer free testing to all pregnant women who had traveled to a country experiencing a Zika outbreak.

For more information, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/zika.

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