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City Devotes $21 Million to Fight Zika Virus

By Jeff Mays | April 18, 2016 7:25pm
 The Zika virus spreads through mosquitoes, and if transferred to a baby in the womb can result in brain damage, experts said.
The Zika virus spreads through mosquitoes, and if transferred to a baby in the womb can result in brain damage, experts said.
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KIPS BAY — The city will spend $21 million over the next three years to prevent the spread of the Zika virus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

The money will beef up the city's already robust mosquito testing and control system developed to manage the West Nile virus and will include more human testing. A public information campaign has also been launched and 51 new employees are being hired to help drive the effort.

"We have to protect ourselves," de Blasio said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus is transmitted from the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.

Fever, joint pain and rash are the most common symptoms and most infected people rarely die or even get sick enough to go to the hospital for treatment.

► READ MORE: Here's What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

The city has identified 40 people in New York City with the Zika virus. All were infected elsewhere.

But the most common danger from the virus is to pregnant mothers whose children could be born with microcephaly or smaller heads than normal. The condition could indicate smaller than normal brains, developmental delays and other brain defects in babies.

So far, the city has identified six pregnant women here who have the virus, said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.

"The real victims of Zika are the unborn babies," Bassett said. "We don't want pregnant women or their families here in New York City to face these risks and its potentially terrible consequences for babies."

Bassett declined to say whether any of the children of the six pregnant women who were infected by the virus faced any health difficulties as a result, citing privacy laws.

The Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted from an infected man to his partner.

The city has never found the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has caused the outbreak in Latin America, here. Brazil is currently dealing with a Zika outbreak that experts say could continue to spread throughout the Americas.

► READ MORE: You Have Little Chance of Contracting Zika Virus: City Health Commissioner

However, there is a concern among New York City health officials that a similar mosquito species, Aedes albopictus, could transmit the virus if it bites someone in the city who was infected with the Zika virus elsewhere.

Discovering "new and surprising" facts such as the Zika virus being connected to microcephaly and the concern about transmission by a different mosquito has left city health officials "less than fully comfortable" and more on alert, said Dr. Herminia Palacio, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services.

"Nature can always throw curveballs," said Bassett. "This is an unusual virus and that's why we are being so aggressive in trying to bring the mosquito population down and carefully monitor it."

Of the 358 Zika virus cases in the United States, all are travel-related and none were transmitted locally, according to the CDC. Thirty-one of those infected have been pregnant women and there are seven sexually transmitted cases.

The city will add 61 new mosquito traps. And in areas where the Aedes albopictus mosquito is found in higher numbers they will be targeted earlier and more frequently. Officials also urged New Yorkers to eliminate any sources of standing water where the mosquito can breed.

De Blasio said the city is focusing on "constant public education" and being "as proactive as possible," lessons learned as the city dealt with the outbreak of Legionnaire's disease and Ebola.

"Much better that we be ahead of the situation," de Blasio said. "With each crisis we face we learn new things."