New Jersey health officials reported last week on two travel associated Zika virus cases in individuals who were infected in Honduras and Columbia.
At the same time, a State Health Department public education campaign is underway to explain the risk of the Zika virus to pregnant women, college students and others considering travel to Latin America and the Caribbean–the #ZapZika campaign.
Acting Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett and the Department of Health’s top doctors — including Deputy Commissioner Dr. Arturo Brito, a bilingual pediatrician — will meet with pregnant women in health centers and hospitals, physician groups, college students, professional medical societies and public health officials. Radio public service announcements have been developed in English and Spanish, along with NJ Transit bus advertising encouraging pregnant women to avoid travel to Zika-affected countries and travelers to prevent mosquito bites by using insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants.
“The severity of the Zika outbreaks highlights the importance of education and awareness to keep travelers and visitors informed and healthy,” Acting Commissioner Bennett said.
The Department’s campaign will build on previous outreach efforts. More than 1,000 public health and health care professionals and maternal and child health advocates have participated in five conference calls hosted by the Department to share information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and more than 350 local health officials joined a training webinar and received tool kits to use in their communities.
“Our biggest concern at this point is pregnant women who may acquire Zika while traveling and the potential impact of the virus on their unborn children,” Acting Commissioner Bennett said.
The CDC has also cautioned that sexual transmission of Zika has been reported after travel to the impacted countries. The Red Cross has recommended that blood donors who have traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central or South America postpone donations until 28 days after returning to the U.S.
“New Jersey does not expect to see Zika outbreaks based on many years of mosquito control and monitoring in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and local government,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan. She also pointed out that the United States’ experience with other mosquito-borne viruses like dengue and chikungunya have been largely travel-imported cases that have not led to widespread outbreaks.
“In light of the serious concern over Zika and birth defects, women who are either pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should postpone travel to Latin American countries and the Caribbean and should also be aware about possible sexual transmission risk,” Dr. Tan added.
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