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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces expanded Zika screening effort

Mosquitos, like the one above photographed in Brazil,

Mosquitos, like the one above photographed in Brazil, can spread the Zika virus. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a statewide expansion Wednesday, March 9, 2016, of a screening program to test for the virus. Credit: AP / Felipe Dana

In response to growing concerns about the Zika virus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced an expansion of the state’s free screening program Wednesday to include pregnant women who have had unprotected sex with a partner who traveled to an endemic part of the world.

The virus is largely a mosquito-borne pathogen sweeping through numerous countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established that it can be transmitted sexually. The CDC has published numerous reports in recent weeks on confirmed and probable cases of sexual transmission.

The New York State Department of Health is investigating one case of possible sexual transmission, state health officials said Wednesday.

To date, 40 samples tested at Wadsworth Center, the state health department’s laboratory, have been positive for Zika virus out of more than 1,400 the lab has screened. All positive specimens involved people who had traveled to endemic countries.

New York already offers free Zika screenings to pregnant women who themselves had traveled to a known Zika region as well as testing for women who are not pregnant and men and children reporting Zika-related symptoms within four weeks of travel to any of the dozens of affected countries.

The state’s announcement comes one day after Northwell Health announced the opening of its Zika-in-pregnancy program on its Manhasset campus and about a month after officials at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow said the facility is offering Zika-specific services.

Pregnant women and their families have had a flurry of questions about the virus, said Dr. Burt Rochelson, chief of maternal fetal medicine at Northwell Health and director of obstetrics at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

“One of the things that has to be recognized,” Rochelson said earlier this week, “there is a lot of fear about this issue.”

New York State health officials said only 1 in 5 people infected with the virus actually gets sick, and symptoms generally are very mild.

Zika has been linked to severe birth defects, such as microcephaly, and is escalating the level of angst among pregnant women and their families. The disorder is typified by smaller head and brain size.

A collaborative study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine by American and Brazilian medical investigators raised grave concerns about exposure to Zika virus during pregnancy.

“Our findings are worrisome,” the scientists wrote, “because 29 percent of ultrasonograms showed abnormalities, including intrauterine growth restriction, central nervous system , and fetal death.

“These were all healthy women with no other risk factors for adverse pregnancy outcomes,” the researchers concluded.