Huntington Hospital is taking preventative steps to ensure its patients know how to combat the Zika virus.
The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a “public health emergency of international concern” this week, just days after three Long Island patients tested positive for the virus. The Centers for Disease Control issued a travel alert for anyone going to regions including South America and Latin America, and Huntington Hospital officials said they were making sure to educate their patients about the symptoms and steps to take if diagnosed with the viral infection that is being spread through mosquitoes.
Denise Naval, director of infection, prevention and control at Huntington Hospital, said that while there is currently no treatment for the virus, there are several precautions a person can take to fight off the mosquito-related Zika.
Naval said the virus is closely related to Yellow Fever, the West Nile Virus and the Dengue virus, which are all also spread through mosquito bites. She said the Zika virus is spread from the Aedes mosquito, specifically.
There are two types of Aedes species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, but only the former currently carries Zika with it and it is not native to Long Island, she said. It’s most common in tropical areas of the world. The latter does not currently carry the virus and is found in certain parts of the United States, including Long Island, she said.
Naval also said Zika can not only be transmitted from a mosquito to a human, but also vice versa — from a human to a mosquito.
“Only 20 percent of people will get symptoms,” Naval said in a phone interview. “Eighty percent of people infected won’t even know they are.”
According to the CDC, symptoms from the Zika virus include a fever, rash, joint pain, headaches and more.
Once infected, the CDC says patients must get rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, and take medicine such as acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that the New York State Department of Health, in conjunction with the CDC, would offer free blood test screenings for individuals who have traveled to areas where the Zika virus is going on.
“We’re working closely with the CDC and local health departments to address potential cases of Zika Virus, and by offering free testing we are helping to stay ahead of this disease and protect the public health,” Cuomo said in a press release.
Naval said if anyone must travel to the tropic regions, where Zika is a problem, there are some key precautions they can take.
“Make sure to use bug spray with DEET; stay indoors with air conditioning if you can because insects prefer heat; and wear long sleeves and long pants,” she said.
Aside from a warning for all travelers to avoid these tropic areas, there is also an extra precaution for pregnant women, as there is an added risk for a child whose mother has the Zika virus while pregnant.
The baby can be born with microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder where a baby is born with a smaller head than usual, or other neurological and autoimmune complications, officials said.
According to the WHO, in countries like Brazil there has been an increasing body of evidence about the link between Zika virus and microcephaly. This specific brain disorder is linked to seizures, developmental delays in speech and walking, intellectual disabilities, feeding and vision problems, and more, according to the CDC.