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NYC Health Department Launches New Zika Awareness Campaign

image004As mosquito season comes to an end and the holiday travel season begins, the Health Department has launched a new Zika awareness campaign and updated New Yorkers on its mosquito control efforts to date. With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming, travel to Zika-affected areas is expected to increase. The Health Department urges New Yorkers to remain vigilant as the Zika virus continues to circulate in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America and parts of Miami-Dade County. The citywide campaign, which will be on television, social media and in newspapers, warns New Yorkers who are pregnant or might be pregnant, and their sex partners, to avoid traveling to areas with Zika. New Yorkers returning from Zika-affected areas are reminded to practice safe sex to help prevent transmission.

The Health Department also announced that no mosquitoes tested positive for the Zika virus in New York City during extensive surveillance throughout the mosquito season. All human cases of Zika infection were associated with travel. This season, there have been six confirmed cases of West Nile virus compared to 38 in 2015. No West Nile virus-related deaths have been reported this season, while 2015 saw four deaths.

In April, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio, and Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett announced an aggressive three-year, $21 million plan to protect New Yorkers from Zika. The City’s plan focused on increasing mosquito surveillance, expanding mosquito control, testing people at risk, and raising awareness citywide about mosquito bite prevention and the risks of travel.

“New York City’s aggressive and comprehensive $21M Zika response, including a public awareness campaign and increased mosquito surveillance and extermination, has set a national standard,” said Deputy Mayor Dr. Herminia Palacio. “As holiday-related travel ramps up, we remind New Yorkers who are pregnant or who seek pregnancy to avoid Zika-affected areas.”

“The City worked hard to control and monitor our mosquito population this season,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “As Zika continues to circulate in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Miami, travel continues to pose a risk of Zika infection. We urge New Yorkers to avoid traveling to these areas if they are in any of these categories: pregnant, sexually active woman of reproductive age and not using a reliable form of birth control, or a male partner of a woman who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant.”

Zika Action Plan
The City’s Zika Action Plan built upon the Department’s successful 15-year old mosquito control program that was implemented in response to the West Nile virus outbreak in 1999. This year, surveillance efforts were increased with double the number of mosquito traps around the city. The Health Department applied more treatments in all five boroughs than ever before – 26 adulticide treatments (8 percent increase from 2015), seven aerial larvicide treatments (133 percent increase), 8,799 ground larvicide applications (212 percent increase), 539,452 catch basin larvicide treatments (25 percent increase), and two truck-based larvicide treatments for the first time.

The Health Department also took unprecedented steps to raise awareness about the Zika virus and ways to reduce exposure to mosquitoes at home and when traveling abroad. The City conducted over 220 community presentations to engage New Yorkers about efforts being made to fight back against mosquitoes – a five percent increase compared to 2015 – and distributed over 4,000 Zika awareness kits, as well as over 2,000 Zika travel warning posters. The comprehensive awareness campaign encouraged New Yorkers to call 311 to report standing water, a common breeding location for mosquitoes. The campaign resulted in a 165 percent increase in standing water inspections (6,021 in 2016) and a 193 percent increase in notices of violations issued (1,760 in 2016).

The Mayor’s plan expanded capacity at the Health Department laboratory to meet the needs of New Yorkers exposed to Zika. As of November 4th, 7,976 New Yorkers have been tested for Zika virus; infection has been confirmed in 620 New Yorkers, including 72 pregnant women. All cases were associated with travel. Of these travel-associated cases, five were transmitted sexually. The Department’s lab also tested 2,056 mosquito pools specimens for the Zika virus from January to October 19th, and all tested negative. From June to October, 4,045 mosquito pools were tested for West Nile virus, and 93 percent tested negative. The Department’s newly created Zika call center facilitated testing for over 7,000 patients and arranged no-cost specimen transportation for 3,000 patients.

“New Yorkers and their partners who are pregnant, or want to be, need to keep in mind the risks of contracting the Zika virus when they travel to warmer climates this winter,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I’m glad the NYC DOHMH is conveying that message by all possible means in the coming weeks.”

“Considering the number of travelers that move between the tri-state area and areas where the Zika virus remains a dangerous public health threat during the holiday travel season, I urge all New Yorkers that are planning to visit these areas to remain vigilant and to strengthen their efforts of prevention. This campaign is greatly needed, and I thank the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene for working to keep New York City residents aware of the potential threat of the Zika virus,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“Our Health Department has done an extraordinary job protecting New Yorkers against the threat posed by the Zika virus,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “Still, we all need to take the necessary precautions and do what it takes to keep ourselves and our families safe. I urge all New Yorkers, particularly those who are pregnant or might become pregnant in the near future, to travel safely, avoid at-risk areas, and follow the guidance of our stellar Health Department.”

As mosquito season ends in New York City, New Yorkers are reminded to avoid traveling to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission if they are pregnant, a woman of reproductive age who is not using a reliable form of birth control, or a male partner of a woman who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. New Yorkers should check the CDC website to learn if the area they are visiting has ongoing Zika virus transmission. Any pregnant woman who traveled to an area with Zika virus transmission while pregnant or trying to get pregnant should see her doctor and be tested for Zika virus infection.

To learn more about the City’s Zika travel warning and steps to prevent Zika infection, go to nyc.gov/health/zika.

About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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