NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a $21 million, three-year plan to help protect New Yorkers from the Zika virus.
The plan includes monitoring and controlling the mosquito population, expanding the capacity to meet the demands of increased testing of pregnant women and launching an awareness campaign.
“We are doing all we can to target the mosquito that could transmit Zika here in the city, and building the capacity to respond to every possible scenario, no matter how unlikely,” de Blasio said.
As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, pregnant women who may have been exposed to the virus are being asked to talk to their doctors about getting tested because Zika can cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head is far smaller than normal.
“There is now a definitive link between Zika infection in pregnant women, fetal death and a whole host of devastating birth defects,” City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said.
“We will spare no effort to protect pregnant New Yorkers from the devastating consequences of Zika,” de Blasio said.
There have been 40 cases reported in New York City, including six pregnant women. All of the patients contracted the virus while visiting other countries. They have all recovered.
“No one has been infected in New York City by the Zika virus, only people who have contracted it abroad and brought it here,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio stressed there’s no evidence of the mosquito that carries the virus of being in New York.
“Right now, the central challenge is people who bring it back,” de Blasio said.
However New York mosquitoes have been described as a cousin to the culprit. There are other ways the virus could spread in the city.
“This isn’t a person to person spread. A mosquito could bite a New Yorker, who returned from a place where they acquired a Zika infection, that mosquito would then bite someone else, and give them the virus,” Dr. Bassett said.
The city will increase mosquito surveillance and control in order to trap and test the bugs. The city also plans to increase human testing, and to launch a public awareness campaign.
“We are adding 51 new Department fo Health workers, exterminators, inspectors, and lab analysts,” the mayor said.
Experts said that Zika can also be spread by unprotected sex and that New Yorkers should be careful when traveling abroad.
“Bring repellent if you travel because you might not be able to find it abroad,” Dr. Bassett said.
Officials on Long Island have been taking action and warning residents to use common sense.
“Stay away from areas where mosquitoes are prevalent, because it’s not pleasant to have a picnic there anyway, and it’s also something that theoretically could transmit other illnesses such as West Nile,” Dr. Aaron Glatt, Infectious Diseases Expert, South Nassau Communities Hospital.
De Blasio’s announcement comes as Democrats are pressing top Senate Republicans to stop dragging their feet and act immediately on President Barack Obama’s request for $1.9 billion to combat the Zika virus.
A majority of the chamber’s Democrats sent Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a letter demanding a Senate vote on additional Zika funds. The White House says the money is urgently needed to fight the spread of mosquitoes that transmit the virus, develop a vaccine, and help other countries battle Zika.
Obama has redirected more than $500 million in unspent Ebola-fighting funds but the White House says it’s only a temporary solution. Republicans are signaling that they’ll provide some Zika money.
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