In December 2015, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDH) was notified by the U.S. Center For Disease Control (CDC) of its first case of the Zika virus in an individual who was visiting Bergen County in November 2015. She was exposed in Colombia, where she resides, recovered fully and returned to Colombia. Now the CDC has confirmed a second New Jersey Zika case in a Hudson County individual who had traveled to Honduras.
There was never a public health risk in either case because both patients were exposed to mosquitoes while outside the U.S.
The vast majority of individuals who get Zika do not develop symptoms. For those who do, symptoms tend to be mild. “Our biggest concern at this point is pregnant women who may acquire Zika while traveling and the potential impact of the virus on their unborn children,” NJDH Acting Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett said.
The CDC has also cautioned that sexual transmission of Zika has been reported after travel to the impacted countries. “In light of the serious concern over Zika and birth defects, women who are either pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should postpone travel to Latin American countries and the Caribbean and should also be aware about possible sexual transmission risk,” NJDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan.
Zika is primarily spread through a bite of the Aedes mosquito, typically found in southern states. There is a closely related species in New Jersey, and the CDC is monitoring to determine how effectively this mosquito “cousin” can carry and transmit Zika.
“New Jersey does not expect to see Zika outbreaks based on many years of mosquito control and monitoring in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and local government,” said Dr. Tan. She also pointed out that the United States’ experience with other mosquito-borne viruses like dengue and chikungunya have been largely travel-imported cases that have not led to widespread outbreaks.
More than 1,000 public health and health care professionals and maternal and child health advocates have participated in five conference calls hosted by NJDH to share information from the CDC. More than 350 local health officials joined a training webinar and received tool kits to use in their communities. Acting Commissioner Bennett, and doctors including bilingual pediatrician Deputy Commissioner Dr. Arturo Brito, will meet with pregnant women in health centers, and interface with hospitals, physician groups, college students, professional medical societies and public health officials.
There is no vaccine or medicine to treat Zika. Mosquito bites remain the primary way Zika virus is transmitted. When traveling to countries where viruses have been reported, the best way to protect yourself is to use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens.
The Red Cross has recommended that blood donors who have traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central or South America postpone donations until 28 days after returning to the U.S.