With Hudson County still in the grip of winter’s cold, health officials are not yet concerned about the potential spread of the zika virus through local mosquitoes. But officials in hospitals and government are monitoring the situation, educating the public and tracking people who have traveled to parts of the world where there have been outbreaks.
The most common way to contract the zika virus is through a mosquito bite. For the most part, it is not considered life-threatening. Rash, joint pain, fever, and conjunctivitis are among the symptoms. These last from a few days to about a week. About 20 percent of people infected show no symptoms and are not aware that they are infected.
The real danger is to pregnant women. The virus is believed to cause possible birth defects, chiefly a condition called microcephaly, which stunts growth of a baby’s head.
There is no vaccine to prevent infection, and no medicine to treat zika, said Dr. Tucker Woods, director of Medicine for CarePoint Health, which includes Bayonne Medical Center, Hoboken University Hospital and Christ Hospital in Jersey City.
“The most we can do is treat the symptoms,” he said.
Not a new disease, just new to the United States
The zika virus has been around for decades in remote parts of the world. The most recent outbreak started in Brazil in 2015 and has since been reported in other nations. To date, all reported cases in the United States have come as a result of people arriving here from other countries. The Center for Disease Control has issued warnings for those traveling to these countries.
“We not overly concerned. We’ve seen things like this before.” – Gregory Williams
Typically, the virus only remains in a person’s body for about two weeks.
Mosquito control is part of the answer
Zika is spread by a particular species of mosquito called aedes. They can be found in the United States. CDC is working with international public health partners and with state health departments to keep local healthcare providers informed.
Gregory Williams, superintendent of Mosquito Control for Hudson Regional Health, said spraying to reduce this population of mosquito is one option. He said there have been meetings with mosquito control officials from across the state to discuss strategies.
“We not overly concerned,” Williams said. “We’ve seen things like this before.”
As with mosquitoes spreading West Nile Virus, mosquitoes carrying zika typically lay eggs in and near standing water in buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots, and vases. They prefer to bite people, and live indoors and outdoors near people. For the most part, they bite people during the day.
Testing pregnant women
Mark Rabson, spokesperson for Jersey City Medical Center, said the hospital is working closely with the Center for Disease Control and Hudson Regional Health to deal with the potential outbreak.
“We’re educating and training our staff in the hospital and outpatient clinics,” he said.
This education and training includes more than 300 employees as well as EMS and paramedics throughout Hudson County.
Dr. Woods said the three hospitals in the CarePoint network have two strategies for dealing with people who might have been exposed to the virus.
“If a woman is pregnant and has a travel history to one of the countries with zika, we have two pathways we can take. If she has symptoms now or had them in the last week weeks, we take a blood test and coordinate with local health officials.”
If the woman is pregnant with no symptoms, the hospital does an ultrasound to look at possible problems with the unborn child’s development.
Woods said the best way to deal with the virus is to avoid getting bitten. This means people should wear long-sleeved shirts and long paints, and stay in places that are mosquito-free. People can also use EPA-registered insect repellents.
A person who contracts the virus should do what they do as if fighting the flu or a cold, such as getting a lot of rest and drinking plenty of fluids. The CDC, however, said people should avoid taking aspirin to relieve pain, but should take acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead.
Dr. Woods said the emergency departments in the CarePoint hospitals in Bayonne, Hoboken, and Jersey City are undergoing training to deal with the outbreak.
Keeping the public informed
Monique Davis, Health Education and Risk communicator for Hudson Regional Health, said, “We’re sharing information on our Twitter account and provide links to the state Department of Health.” This information is done in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
“A number of people in the countries affected by zika, such as Brazil, speak Portuguese,” she said.
She noted, “We’re getting updates regularly and information can change. So far there are more questions than answers.”
She said the fact that the disease can be transmitted in other ways, such as through sexual contact, is a game changer.
“We learn more from each outbreak,” she said.
It is recommended that people use protection when engaging in sex, or abstain.
The American Red Cross has asked donors to defer blood donations for 28 days after visiting a country where there is an outbreak.
Information about the disease and updates can be found at www.hudsonregional.org.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.