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Zika virus symposium aims to calm public fears on infection

Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of the medicine

Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of the medicine department and division chief of infectious diseases at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, leads a symposium at the hospital on the Zika virus on Monday, April 18, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

At a symposium held in Oceanside to address concerns over the Zika virus, a woman wanted to know whether it’s safe for her pregnant daughter-in-law to visit her in Lido Beach this summer.

The woman, Sandra Sutain, 71, said Monday that her daughter-in-law, who lives in Massachusetts, is so concerned about the emerging threat of the mosquito-borne virus that she had already canceled her Aruba vacation and plans to do the same with her upcoming New York trip.

“Is she safer in the Berkshire Mountains than at Lido Beach?” Sutain asked an infectious disease expert. “We’re all panicking.”

One panelist, Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of the medicine department and division chief of infectious diseases at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, which hosted the symposium for the public, said he has been fielding similar questions regarding travel, usually outside the United States, several times a day.

“Certainly a pregnant woman should be concerned about where she is traveling in general, not only because of Zika,” Glatt said. “But I would reassure you, at this point in time, she shouldn’t have any fears about coming to Long Island.”

The Zika virus, which causes microcephaly, a birth defect marked by unusually small head and brain size, is likely to make its way to the United States, White House officials said earlier this month. And cities as far north as New York and San Francisco could experience cases of the infection by this summer.

Glatt and his colleague, Dr. Nicholas Tarricone, an obstetrician and gynecologic surgeon, answered wide-ranging questions from attendees on Monday.

One woman among the several dozen people in attendance, wanted to know whether a mosquito could spread the disease by attacking an infected person, then biting other people.

“It’s theoretically possible,” Glatt said. “It has not happened yet in the United States.”

Is one type of contraceptive better at preventing the spread of the Zika virus than another, a woman asked.

“No,” Tarricone said.

In addition to mosquito bites, the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually, though so far documented cases show the transmission from clinically sick men to women or from men to other men, Glatt said. He said most people who contract the virus develop no symptoms at all. The virus, however, can cause a rash, fever and conjunctivitis — red eyes — in some people.

The concern about the Zika virus, Tarricone said, is the devastating harm it could inflict on unborn children. It’s more a concern for people who plan to become pregnant.

A woman infected with the Zika virus or who had traveled to affected areas, a large swath of Latin America and the Caribbean, should avoid trying to get pregnant for eight weeks, Tarricone said. Men who have tested positive for the virus should abstain from trying to impregnate a woman for six months.

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