By Vania Andre
With a growing number of Caribbean countries reporting cases of the fast-spreading Zika virus, the New York City health commissioner addressed concerns and shared prevention tips for New Yorkers on Thursday.
New York City has a large Caribbean Diaspora, which is where the Zika virus outbreaks originated, raising concerns among New Yorkers of the likelihood of the “pandemic in progress” affecting city residents.
The virus cannot be transmitted from person to person, nor is it airborne, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said during a panel discussion, hosted by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Bassett spoke with reporters from ethnic community publications on a variety of health issues relevant to immigrant communities in the city. The panel was moderated by Errol Louis, Director of Urban Reporting at the J-School and political anchor at NY1 News, Vania Andre, editor in chief of the Haitian Times, and Jarrett Murphy, executive editor and publisher of City Limits.
It’s important to note that the virus is transmitted via mosquito bites, Bassett said, and the species responsible is not one present in New York. The main concern is of those traveling to countries where the virus is running rampant. Cases of the virus have been reported in 24 countries, including Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The Haitian Ministry of Health confirmed 125 cases across the county on Thursday. At least seven people in New York have received a diagnosis of Zika, with three of them hailing from the city.
The department has issued information sheets in nine languages, including Haitian Kreyol, listing prevention tips, and a recommendation for pregnant women to delay travel to Latin America and the Caribbean. The virus has been linked to birth defects in babies born to women affected by the virus, including abnormally small heads and neurological damage.
It’s critical that health care providers be diligent in reporting travel history of patients, particularly those who show symptoms, she said. Symptoms of the virus include fever, rash and joint pain.
The virus is spread through a species of mosquito known as Aedes aegypti, Bassett said. Although this particular species is not found in New York, its “cousin” the Asian tiger, is, and could pose a threat.
“This is a problem of travel,” she said, “and we all learned from our experience with Ebola how important it is to ask people about travel.”
The commissioner urged those traveling to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites, such as the use of insecticides, wearing long-sleeved garments, and sleeping in settings where there are screened windows.