WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Downplaying the threat of the Zika virus, county officials yesterday still urged residents to take preventative measures against the mosquito-borne disease, especially if traveling to an area where it has already spread.
“One of the questions we get is: ‘I have a family vacation planned for Florida. Do I still go?’” said County Executive Robert P. Astorino. “That’s a decision you need to make, but I think if you are not pregnant, don’t plan on becoming pregnant, the risk is very, very low of anything happening, so use precautions, as you would here, so you don’t bring it back. We can’t shut down our lives for something that might be.”
Astorino, joined at the press conference by Dr. Sherlita Amler, county health commissioner, said to avoid the threat of the Zika or West Nile viruses, residents should use insect repellant, dress appropriately and drain stagnant bodies of water before they become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
“If you do that, you should be OK,” he said.
If residents do travel to an area where the Zika virus is present, such as the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami, Amler said they should continue to apply insect repellant for three weeks after they return home.
“What this does is hopefully prevent our mosquitoes from biting you, becoming infected with the Zika virus, and then potentially transmitting it to someone here,” Amler said.
There are no locally acquired cases of Zika or West Nile in Westchester this year, Astorino said; however, Rockland County and New York City have reported several batches of mosquitoes that have tested positive for West Nile. The mosquitoes were collected in Orangetown the week of July 10 and on Staten Island, Queens and in the north Bronx in June and July. While no mosquitoes found in Westchester have tested positive for the virus to date, this is the time of year when the health department expects to find them.
“Given the fact that our neighbors have reported positive mosquitoes, it is safe to assume that mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus are also present here in Westchester County,” Amler said. “The recent rain provides optimal breeding conditions for mosquitoes that can carry viruses.”
Amler urged all residents to remove standing water from their property, ensure their window screens are tight-fitting and free of tears. Open trash cans, uncovered boats, clogged rain gutters, fountains and bird baths, water bowls for pets, wagons and other toys, ponds, tires, leaky holes, neglected pools, and rot holes in trees are all common household locations that need to be checked, she said.
“[Mosquitoes] only travel 150 meters in their lifetime, so if you get Zika [or West Nile], you probably grew that mosquito,” Amler said.
Last year, 17 positive mosquito batches of West Nile were found in Westchester County and two human cases were reported. This year, the health department has sent 168 batches of mosquitoes for testing since it began collecting them in early June, and will continue collecting batches of mosquitoes throughout the season.
The department has evaluated 59,530 catch basins. Of those, nearly 42,534 were treated with larvicide. The department also gave away 400 pounds of free minnows to property owners with ponds. The minnows reduce the mosquito population by feeding on larvae and pupae before they emerge into adult mosquitoes. Once positive pools are identified, the Department will also send out inspectors to locate and eradicate standing water. If needed, storm drains in the area will be retreated with larvicide.
Residents who notice large areas of standing water on public property should report this to the Westchester County Department of Health at 914-813-5000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.