Zika hunters taking battle locally to prevent virus outbreak in New York

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WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – On the front lines of Zika prevention, scientists are baiting, trapping and testing mosquitos to see if Zika has come to New York.

“We have not found any mosquitos that have tested positive for Zika, and it’s a very good thing,” said Assistant Commissioner Peter DeLucia of Westchester’s Health Department. "We’re currently hiking through a densely forested preserve in Chappaqua where they keep some of the hundreds of traps in the county."

However, 41 New York pregnant women have now tested positive for the Zika virus acquired outside the U.S. It’s causing devastating birth defects and brain damage in babies, even death. And now the first cases, nearly two dozen mosquito borne Zika are confirmed in one Miami neighborhood, leading to an unprecedented CDC travel advisory and increased concern nationwide.

Using specially baited traps, scientists with Westchester’s Health Department collect the winged pests looking for any that carry a host of debilitating or deadly mosquito-bourne diseases like West Nile, Chickengunya and Dengue. Using three different types traps, the department will collect mosquitoes four days a week, sometimes thousands of them.

“It was just shy of 3,000,” recounted John, one of the scientists, as he collects and baits the traps. He took them back to headquarters to freeze, sort and ship them off to labs to test for signs of diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

I ran the scenario by DeLucia: “If I travel to a Zika hot zone, why is it important to wear bug spray when I get home?”

DeLucia was ready. “You may be coming back with Zika. Here’s the thing. Four out of five of infected people don’t know they have it. And the only way to get Zika into our mosquito population is by them biting us. We don’t want mosquitoes biting someone then contracting it and bringing into our population.”

DeLucia said it’s everyone in the Zika hunting business’s worst fear.

Meanwhile, women are flooding into Dr. Hicham Alnachawati’s office at American Family Care to be checked for Zika.

“They come all the time from concern,"Alnachawati said. "They worry it.”

In addition to testing, doctors advise patients on how to prevent. “

We like to use a combination of methods," Alnachawati said. "It’s more effective to use more than one approach.”

Here’s what Alnachawati prescribes: in addition to repellant with DEET, there’s permethrin to spray on clothing, DEET-free bands for wrists and ankles, and lemon eucalyptus , also without DEET for pregnant women looking to avoid chemicals.


West Nile in New York: http://www.westchestergov.com/health
Zika questions: http://www.cdc.gov/zika
Zika & pregnancy: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pregnancy/index.html