Patricia Ruppert, M.D., the Commissioner of Health for Rockland County talks about the Zika virus during a press conference at the Rockland County Department of Health, Feb. 5, 2016. (Video by Mark Vergari/The Journal News)
A woman who recently traveled to South America has been diagnosed with the mosquito-borne virus, Rockland officials said Friday.
A Rockland woman who recently traveled to South America has been diagnosed with the Zika virus, officials said Friday.
The woman, who is not pregnant, is ill but expected to recover, Rockland Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said.
The disease causes a range of symptoms including joint pain and high fevers and has been linked to birth defects in babies born to infected women.
The country visited by the Rockland woman, which officials would not identify, has reported outbreaks of the mosquito-borne virus. The virus is spreading through South American, Central American and the Caribbean.
Rockland health officials said she contracted the virus there, not in New York, where it is too cold for mosquito activity.
But that could change when the weather warms up.
The virus is spread by at least two mosquito species: aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus.
Zika, a virus transmitted through mosquito bites, is affecting multiple countries in Latin America, and is expected to spread to the U.S.
One of them, aedes albopictus, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, has already been identified in Westchester and Rockland counties as well as New York City and Long Island.
The state Department of Health announced Friday that it will begin trapping and testing mosquitoes in Putnam as well as Orange, Sullivan and Dutchess counties to track the spread of the Asian tiger mosquito to see if the insects are infected with Zika.
“The concern in the U.S. over Zika has really ballooned in the last week or so,” said Judi Hunderfund, director of environmental health for the Rockland Department of Health. “The good news in New York is that we have time to see if the state changes its guidance before the start of mosquito season.”
There have been 11 cases of Zika virus infection among New York residents. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced that pregnant women in New York who have been in areas affected by Zika can get free tests for the virus even if they don’t have symptoms.
There is no cure or treatment for the illness. Researchers suggest the virus can also be transmitted through sexual activity of a person who is already infected.
The Rockland woman is married and of childbearing age, Ruppert said. Her spouse has not been tested, but he and other members of the family have been counseled about symptoms of the illness, said Dr. Anil Vaidian, an infectious disease specialist with the Rockland Department of Health..
A total of 35 people nationwide have been diagnosed with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All of those patients are thought to have contracted the virus outside the country.
The explosive spread of the virus that has been linked to a surge in babies born with microcephaly — a smaller than normal head which is usually accompanied by severe brain damage. Researchers are still trying to figure out the connection but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that pregnant women postpone travel to those regions.
Physicians in the Lower Hudson Valley have also been advising pregnant women to cancel their plans to go to areas identified by the CDC as high risk for the Zika virus.
Rockland and Westchester created mosquito control programs more than 10 years ago after the West Nile virus was found in the area. That virus can cause illness ranging from flu-like symptoms to a serious brain infection and death.
Control efforts include putting larvicide in catch basins where many species of mosquitoes breed, including the Asian tiger mosquito.
“This shows the important of having an established surveillance program in place when something new comes up,” said Brian Hunderfund, Rockland’s director of mosquito control.
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