A Suffolk County resident has been added to the list of people statewide with an infection caused by the mosquito-borne Zika virus as health authorities on Long Island and in New York City assured the public Thursday that there is no evidence that Zika virus is spreading in New York.
The state officially upped its tally of Zika virus infections to seven people Thursday, saying all seven cases have been laboratory-confirmed by scientists at Wadsworth Center, a division of the State Health Department.
Each infected person contracted the virus while traveling to parts of the world where carrier mosquitoes are flourishing.
“Because Zika virus is primarily transmitted by infected mosquitoes, there is very limited chance of local transmission in New York during the winter,” State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement.
“Even so, the Department of Health is taking steps now . . . to prepare for the warmer months when mosquitoes will be active in New York,” Zucker said.
The newly identified Suffolk case brings to two the number of Long Islanders who’ve contracted the illness.
Infection with the Zika virus has been linked to a wide spectrum of symptoms that range from a mild flulike illness to severe birth defects when pregnant women are infected, Dr. Victor Politi, chief executive of Nassau University Medical Center, said during a news conference in Mineola on Thursday.
The virus is a notorious cause of microcephaly — small head size — and brain damage in infants born to infected mothers, he said.
In New York City, three people — including a pregnant woman — have been diagnosed with the mosquito-transmitted virus after returning home from countries where the disease is flourishing, health officials with the de Blasio administration said Thursday.
Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Herminia Palacio and Health Commissioner Mary Bassett, both medical doctors, declined to provide details about the cases, citing medical privacy laws. They did note that none of the patients are experiencing severe complications.
Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant are being advised to delay traveling to regions where the infection is spreading, Palacio and Bassett said.
Swarms of virus-laden mosquitoes have bitten millions of people in Latin America and caused thousands of birth defects in Brazil alone, where health authorities have asked women to avoid becoming pregnant until 2018.
Other Latin American countries have asked women to avoid pregnancy as efforts escalate to control mosquitoes.
Zika virus cannot be transmitted by casual person-to-person contact, New York health experts said Thursday. And while there has been concern that the virus may be sexually transmitted, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the evidence for that mode of transmission is insufficient.
During the Mineola news conference, Nassau County government and health officials offered assurances that an all-out effort is under way to keep the Zika virus off Long Island.
Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Nassau commissioner of health, said mosquito traps will be strategically set throughout known mosquito breeding areas, starting in April.
“I can’t guarantee you that there won’t be Zika here,” Eisenstein said, but he underscored that public health officials are doing everything possible to keep the virus at bay.
“The key public health message,” Eisenstein said, “nobody should panic.”
But he and other experts are nevertheless concerned.
Eisenstein said the mosquito that carries Zika virus in Latin America and elsewhere in the world — Aedes aegypti — exists in New York, but in relatively low numbers.
A huge challenge, he added, is the presence of Aedes albopictus, the notorious Asian tiger mosquito — a flying hypodermic needle — that has become widespread on Long Island in recent years. That menace, he said, is capable of carrying the same viruses as Ades aegypti: Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses.
The Asian tiger mosquito, Eisenstein said, is a notable daytime biter recognized by its stripes and ability to breed in small amounts of water.
Politi, meanwhile, said doctors at his institution are on the lookout for the infection and are paying close attention to pregnant women who may have traveled to countries where Zika virus is spreading.
“We serve a large population from El Salvador,” Politi said of one of the countries that has been stricken by the virus. “Patients are being asked whether they have traveled to there or to any endemic country.”
At the same news conference, Russell Smith and his wife, Rosemary Saponaro of Merrick, said they were supposed to depart this Sunday aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship to visit eight ports in Zika-endemic countries. Saponaro is pregnant and the couple has canceled the trip.
The cruise line, Smith said, has been reluctant to refund the couple’s money, offering, instead, credit on a future voyage.
“That’s unacceptable,” he said.
Bassett said it’s probably wise for most potential travelers to stay put in New York.
“Travel to warm places in winter months is something that New Yorkers often look forward to doing,” Bassett said. “This might be a good winter to think about vacationing in the Catskills.”