New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker hosted a webinar last Monday afternoon offering information for New Yorkers about the Zika virus, which was also declared a global emergency by the W.H.O. earlier this month.
Zucker said that the virus is transmitted primarily by mosquitoes and labs have confirmed Zika cases in travelers returning from areas in Central America, South America, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
While the disease is usually mild and those who get sick generally display symptoms such as a fever, rash and joint pain for about a week, the virus has been linked to a condition called microcephaly in babies born to mothers in Latin and Central America who are infected.
“Because there is neither a vaccine to prevent or treat Zika, the CDC recommends that pregnant women reconsider travel to these areas,” Zucker said.
Michael Phillips, MD, director of infection control and prevention at NYU Langone
By Sabina Mollot
Amidst the spreading of a serious respiratory illness in 18 states so far, including New York, last week, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer urged the Center for Disease Control to provide more resources to local hospitals in the face of Enterovirus D68 as well as resources to help spread awareness about it.
Twelve children have contracted the virus in New York State so far, including one resident of New York City. There have been a total of 153 confirmed cases of the virus in 18 states between August and September 18 and the virus is suspected of causing the death of a New Jersey pre-schooler. Part of the problem, Schumer noted is that at first, the virus may appear to be a cold which can then lead to more serious symptoms that can lead to hospitalization.
However, this week, the director of infection control and prevention at NYU Langone, Michael Phillips, MD, said that while New Yorkers should always be vigilant about any threat to their health, statistically, catching the flu is still a far bigger risk than D68.
“What captures people’s attention is when there’s a new, novel infection out there, people wonder, ‘Am I and my loved ones at risk?’,” he said.
Phillips added that while conditions like D68 and even ebola are currently a cause for concern for healthcare practitioners, for the community, the hospital’s main goal is prevention the spread of the flu.
“I think the flu for sure is a constant and has a devastating toll in the community,” he said. “We have vaccines and they’re underutilized. We had an unpredictable season last year and one of the things you can say about the flu each year is that it’s unpredictable.”
Last year, what was unusual in flu patterns was that people were coming down with it late in the season, even April, as much as they were around the holidays. Then, there was an outbreak of measles in the spring, and, noted Phillips, there’s always a risk of transmission when people aren’t getting immunized.
While some people are wary of getting the flu shot, Phillips is a staunch believer in its effectiveness.