Zap Zika Events Educate Residents About Virus

By Briana Vannozzi

Students, faculty and members of the public met at Montclair State University to learn how to zap Zika.

“In New Jersey we don’t expect to see an outbreak. That means we don’t expect to find it here in our pools of water based upon our experience with other viruses like chikungunya and dengue and given our really good efforts by DEP and our local health and mosquito control officials,” said Acting Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett.

A team of health experts is traveling around the state holding “Zap Zika” public education forums. The virus is mainly a risk for pregnant women or anyone traveling to Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Zika is a real concern for us and actually for many here in the U.S. because we’ve seen here in the western hemisphere that in May 2015 it was introduced in Brazil and it is now in 36 countries. So the problem has grown and has grown so rapidly that it has been declared a public health epidemic by the World Health Organization,” Bennett said.

The disease is primarily spread through a bite of the aedes species mosquit0, typically found in southern states. But New Jersey has a closely related cousin mosquito, and the CDC is monitoring that to understand how effectively it can carry and transmit the Zika virus.

So far both New Jersey cases originated from bites by mosquitoes in flagged countries. The patients have fully recovered. State Epidemiologist Tina Tan says residents need to heed warnings when traveling.

“It is true that the vast majority of people who might get infected with Zika Virus don’t show any symptoms at all. So that said, if people are concerned about their health and getting Zika virus, that it’s really important they take precautions to prevent getting infection,” Tan said.

Like using insect repellent that’s been approved by the EPA to work on this mosquito, wearing long pants and sleeves if traveling to these areas and checking the state health and CDC websites for updates.

“I don’t know of anyone changing travel plans, and I don’t think I would either. If I had any,” said MSU student Rebecca Mendez.

“There was a lot of information and a lot of ways to get more information. And I think that’s really important is teaching the public about how to find the information for themselves,” said MSU graduate student Julia Dondero.

Health officials are still studying sexual transmission of the virus. They’re urging people to take precautions. Especially for women who are planning to become or may be pregnant.