Zika Virus is scary, especially if you’re thinking about becoming pregnant, or already are. Recently, a close friend of mine told me over a bagel and cream cheese that the only thing giving her pause about becoming pregnant immediately was the threat of contracting it. Even though, thus far, the virus has cropped up relatively far away, it has recently inched closer (to Florida, but that link gives you reasons not to freak out too much about it), and so the threat is nonetheless real. Symptoms, as they appear in adults, are minor and may not even manifest, whereas birth defects it causes in newborns are severe.
Luckily, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is taking this threat as they should: damn seriously. And, this week, the agency released a new series of interactive maps to show us, precisely, just how seriously that is—and to help us understand how realistic the possibility is that it could crop up here.
The new maps are part of a three-year program to prevent an outbreak of the virus, backed by $21 million in funding, according to DNAinfo, and its statistics map the ways in which mosquito-killing agents are applied, where that is happening, and are updated on a weekly basis. DNAinfo also reports that heightened mosquito trapping efforts in the city began in 1999, upon an outbreak of the West Nile Virus. This year alone, six larvicide and five pesticide sprayings have already happened in the five boroughs, or, double the amount conducted within the same time frame last year, due to Zika’s recent appearance.
Helpfully, the maps tell us straight off the bat, no Zika-carrying mosquitos have been captured in New York City since more trapping and tracking efforts began. The mosquito that transmits Zika in Central and South America is called the Aedes aegypti; in New York City, this precise mosquito has not appeared, but one of its cousins, the Aedes albopictus, has, and it is capable of carrying the virus.
However, the Health Department points out, “Just because a mosquito can carry the virus does not mean that it will cause disease,” which is a relief, and a possibility that officials are still investigating. The New York City Zika-compatible mosquito—the Aedes albopictus—has been trapped in 120 locations across all five boroughs; these bugs are tested for appearance of the virus weekly at the Public Health Laboratory, according to DNAinfo, and the maps are updated accordingly. As of the 18th of August, no Zika carrying mosquitos were found (whereas (more alarmingly?) 187 mosquito traps were found containing West Nile virus; nonetheless, that represents a 28% decrease in West Nile compared to the last three years).
But back to Zika: the maps show approximate locations of mosquito traps; each site can be clicked on to reveal the weekly mosquito count. Another map shows mosquito activity at catch basins (storm drains and sewer grates), and which have been treated with Larvicides (to kill young mosquitos); yet another shows where larvicide has been deployed by backpack (none in Brooklyn); and a fourth shows where mosquitos have been treated by “aerial larviciding”—deployed by helicopter onto boggy and forest-heavy areas. Finally, another graphic displays where adult mosquitos have been treated via truck spray, a practice known, ominously, as “adulticiding.” Helpfully, the DOH says, “We do this in residential or non-residential areas. We plan these events carefully and minimize human exposure to the pesticides.”
Standing water violations are also tracked (because mosquitos love themselves some standing water) and property owners can be given a $2,000 bill if they fail to report and take care of it; six such violations have been issued recently in Brooklyn.
So, women who want to get pregnant soon, it seems that our city is really working for us in this case—which is a relief. This may not be a place people move, expressly, to start families, but we are human and the inevitable—births—still happens. It’s nice to know efforts are being made to protect us from a potentially nightmare scenario.
And, finally, the DOH bids us, we should all do as we already do best and too frequently (for far more minor complaints): If you see standing water that has not been attended to, you should call 311 to report it.