ELIZABETH, NJ – The Zika virus poses the greatest threat to pregnant women, agreed a panel of medical experts July 7 at a seminar hosted by Trinitas Regional Medical Center.

The panel, which consisted of Mark Colicchio, Elizabeth public health officer, Dr. William Farrer, the hospital epidemiologist, Lourdes Hernandez, Trinitas’s director of infection control, and Dr. Munir Nazir, director of maternal fetal medicine, addresses dozens of healthcare professionals about the virus that has as yet no cure.

According to the panel, There are three ways to contract the Zika virus, by mosquitoes, through blood transfusions, and through men to women sexual contact. So far, there have been no transmissions in the United States, and any cases involve travelers to the U.S. from countries where outbreaks have occurred. “All have been some place where Zika is highly present,” said Dr. Farrer. The number of countries where Zika is present is too many to list, commented Dr. Farrer

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The panel recommends that women who are pregnant or planning to be should limit travel. Women trying to conceive should wait eight weeks after traveling to another country. Due to a dormant period, men who either have traveled or showed signs of the Zika virus should wait six months before resuming sexual relations, or they should use a condom. “The Zika virus can only be transmitted man to woman,” said Dr. Farrer.

The good news is that the Zika virus is not a chronic disease, lasting only two to seven days. “Zika is not a life-threatening disease,” said Dr. Nazir. “It’s only importance at this time is to pregnant women.”

But that importance is critical because Zika can seriously damage a fetus’s developing brain that can result in developmental delays. “If the virus reaches the fetus, it can be very risky,” said Dr. Nazir. “The greatest risk is in the first trimester when the brain is forming.”

Although there is currently no vaccine, there are precautions that can be taken. The panel recommended avoiding areas where there are mosquitoes, covering arms and legs, and the use of mosquito spray. “The sprays will not harm pregnant women,” said Dr. Nazir.

In addition, Lourdes Hernandez recommended that residents look around their properties where mosquitoes could breed such as bird feeders and containers with water. “Any place where there is standing water,” she said. She added that Trinitas’s staff is prepared and educated to treat Zika.

Mark Colicchio reported that the city is working with the New Jersey Department of Health and the Union County Mosquito Control to spray areas where the insects breed. His staff is also patrolling the city looking for vulnerable areas. Keeping lawns mowed and not allowing water to stand in flower pots and other containers are other ways to reduce the threat of Zika, he said.