Zika Arrives in N.J., Public Health Officials Plan Ahead

Photo released by Hackensack University Medical Center.

Some of the smallest insects are now among the largest concerns of state public health officials after the first baby in New Jersey has been born with serious birth defects linked to the Zika virus.

Born Wednesday, June 1 at the Hackensack University Medical Center to a mother from Honduras, this Zika-born baby is also the third born in the U.S. know to have such serious Zika-related birth defects. According to Dr. Manny Alvarez, Fox News Channel’s senior managing editor for health news, the mother told doctors she was bitten by a mosquito early in her pregnancy and developed a rash, but was not diagnosed in Honduras due to a lack of nearby testing resources.

Although most cases of the virus have been known to occur in areas with active outbreaks such as the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Pacific Islands, New Jersey has documented 18 cases of the Zika virus thus far. Prompting concern among residents of the state, especially those who are pregnant, this condition is now known to cause microcephaly in babies — an abnormal smallness of the head associated with incomplete brain development.

Typically, symptoms of this virus include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and headache. Approximately one in five people will develop these symptoms within three to 12 days after infection and they can last several days to a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Regardless of its origin in the southern hemisphere, there are several ways by which Zika may have arrived in New Jersey. First, those traveling to these southern regions have been known to carry the virus back to the United States where sexual transmittance has been brought into question. Secondly, there also exists the possibility that local mosquitos are becoming carriers of the virus.

Spread through the bite of both the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the closely related breed common in New Jersey, the Aedes albopictus, locally known as the Asian tiger mosquito, concern of Zika is increasing as warmer weather brings with it an influx of these mosquito populations.

However, while the media is portraying Zika as a massive public health crisis, there is still much that is not known about the virus. For example, according to the CDC, scientists are unsure if infected men can pass the virus onto their sexual partners, if infected women can pass Zika on to men and if Zika can be transmitted through kissing.

“Since we’re in the middle of the Pinelands, there is concern, but we have had no reported cases in this area so far. Obviously we’ve had a very wet year so I’m sure many towns across the state have concerns as well,” Shamong Township administrator Sue Onorato said. “It’s becoming more of an issue across the country, and I would highly recommend that the public educates and informs themselves on it.”

While Onorato explained that this condition is becoming increasingly relevant, she reminds the public that Shamong Township is not responsible for the treatment of mosquitos, but rather the Burlington County Board of Health has a mosquito control commission that is responsible.

“Constantly throughout the year, we’re monitoring mosquito populations through different traps and treatments throughout the county,” Burlington County public information officer Eric Arpert said. “We have a good handle on the situation, but no amount of resources can match cooperation from the residents, which is paramount even in their own backyards.”

Arpert also stressed that education is really the key, and although the county organizes door drops, door hangers and social media posts to relay information to residents, they are highly encouraged to partake in research of their own as well. Aside from heightening awareness, the county also stays vigilant and prepared by responding to areas of concern including trenches along the side of the road and areas of frequent mosquito breeding.

“We’re confident that this year our efforts will protect our residents,” Arpert said.

Despite the county’s best efforts to control the spread of Zika, no vaccine exists to prevent the condition and therefore a number of precautions should be taken to better ensure it is not contracted. Included in these measures are emptying all standing water out of yards, making sure window screens have no large holes and using Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents.

Other tips include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and if outside for long periods of time and unable to be protected from mosquito bites, consider sleeping under a mosquito bed net. Apert can be contacted for answers to additional questions at (609) 265–5028.