NYC Dept. of Health Warns About Zika

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, New York City Commissioner of Health, speaking to community and ethnic reporters on July 20 at the Dept. of Health (Photo by Yeo Ran Choi for Voices of NY)

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, New York City commissioner of health, speaking to community and ethnic reporters on July 20 at the Department of Health (Photo by Yeo Ram Choi for Voices of NY)

Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant “should not travel” to regions in the Caribbean, Latin America and South America affected by the mosquito-born Zika virus, Dr. Mary Bassett, the New York City commissioner of health, stressed repeatedly at a briefing held at the Department of Health’s Long Island City location on July 20. Nor, for that matter, should the partners of these women travel to those areas, unless they are willing to protect their partners from contracting Zika through sexual transmission subsequently, Bassett added.

[Editor’s note: On August 1, Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio and Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett added Miami, Florida to the travel warning, following the confirmation by the Florida Health Department of ten cases of locally transmitted Zika virus.]


Noting that the number of reported Zika cases in the city keeps rising – there are now 346 people who have tested positive for the Zika virus, of whom 41 are pregnant women – Bassett said that “I really think it’s just a matter of time before we see a case of a baby with microcephaly born to a mother who has been infected with Zika while traveling.”

[Two days after the briefing for the community and ethnic press, on July 22, Bassett and other city officials announced that a baby had been born with microcephaly this month at a hospital in New York City.]

zika-pregnancy-graphThe number of pregnant women whose medical providers have referred them for Zika testing has been climbing steadily in recent months. More than 2,000 pregnant women have met the criteria for Zika testing by virtue of having traveled to affected areas or having been exposed because of a partner who traveled to an exposed area. “I want to see that graph level off,” said Bassett.

To drive the point home, the Department of Health is mounting a new campaign in social media and will extend messaging in subways, print and TV in coming weeks.

Zika is not a life-threatening infection. Indeed, about 80 percent of those infected show no symptoms, and those who do generally suffer muscle aches, rashes and only a mild fever. It is for the babies of pregnant women who become infected, Bassett stressed, that the consequences can be “devastating.”

pregnant-zika-prAlmost 60 pregnant women a day are being cleared for testing approved by the city’s Zika testing call center. The test is being offered at no charge by the Department of Health.

Dr. Bassett addressed more than 30 journalists from the ethnic and community media in New York at the briefing, which was held in collaboration with the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. The city has committed $21 million to reduce the number of mosquitoes in the city through a doubling of insectide spraying and larvicide, to educate the public, and to put in place a robust surveillance system.

To date, every single case of Zika in the city has been travel-associated.

The Department of Health reports that as of July 15 there were 346 Zika cases in New York, of which 207, or 60 percent, were among individuals who recently traveled to the Dominican Republic. After that, the Zika virus page of the Department of Health’s web site lists travel to Puerto Rico (27 cases), Jamaica (20), Guyana (16), Colombia (9), and St. Lucia (6).

Dr. Juan Tapia Mendoza, who runs Pediatrics 2000, a large pediatric practice with locations in Harlem and Washington Heights, said educational efforts had helped a great deal, but that they are still needed. “Many people think that Zika is something that happens out in the woods, and that if they go to a resort or are in the capital of a Caribbean country, that they are not going to get Zika,” he said.

The vector of the Zika virus in affected areas is the mosquito Aedes aegypti. That mosquito has not been found in the NYC area, where what Bassett called a “cousin,” Aedes albopictus, is found. No local mosquitoes in NYC have been found to carry the virus.

Also at the briefing, Dr. Sonia Angell, deputy commissioner at the Health Department, presented a report on Immigrant Health in the city in 2014. The study notes that 45 percent of residents are foreign born, and Dr. Angell said that there are some “important differences” in health insurance coverage and other measures between foreign-born and U.S.-born in the city.

For instance, 20 percent of the foreign-born do not have health insurance, compared to 13 percent among U.S.-born. The foreign-born are also less likely than U.S.-born residents to receive routine primary care services such as getting their blood pressure checked or receiving a flu shot.

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  1. Pingback: VoicesofNY: NYC Dept. of Health Warns About Zika & Pregnant Women – the WORD

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