HARLEM — The number of New Yorkers with the Zika virus has increased to 505 — 51 of them pregnant women — as city officials are urging New Yorkers, particularly pregnant women and their partners, to refrain from traveling to Zika-ridden countries for the next year.
The travel warning comes as the New York Blood Center (NYBC), a nonprofit community blood center, announced it will now screen its blood supply for the Zika virus following new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines released Friday.
The FDA recommended that all blood collected in selected states — including New York, California, New Mexico and Texas, among other states — start being tested for Zika.
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The increased security measures are designed to protect babies and pregnant women, who are at most risk of health issues from the disease, according to Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat who continued to get the word out in Upper Manhattan on Tuesday.
“We’re doing this out of the concern for [pregnant women’s] health, but most important, for the health of their unborn child. It’s critical that they take that responsibility,” Espaillat said, urging pregnant women, and those planning to have children to avoid traveling to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and other Zika-affected areas.
Dr. Roberto Perello of Pediatrics 2000, said the onus shouldn’t only be on the women — adding that infected men can also pass the virus on to women even if they have no symptoms.
“Men get the virus when traveling to Latin American countries, and although they don’t have the symptoms, are contagious,” Dr. Perello, said in Spanish, adding that it’s important for men to use condoms for six months after their return.
The symptoms for Zika, officials said, include fever, a widespread bumpy skin rash, joint pain and pinkeye.
The NYC Health Department said that as of Aug. 19, there have been five sexually transmitted Zika cases, including the first known case in the world of a woman giving the virus to a man.
But despite the high concerns, Bassett said the city is hopeful that they will get the virus under control — adding that they're working with other agencies, including the Department of Education, on ways to reach out to local communities.
She said that while the travel ban will not be permanent, people need to be cautious.
“I don’t want countries to think that we’ve written a circle around them forever,” Bassett said. “There are plenty [of people] who are not subject to these travel advisories, and for them we say, use mosquito-repellent, protect yourself and go enjoy the beautiful Caribbean and wonderful countries of Latin America.”