New Mexico Public Health Officials on watch for Zika Virus

SANTA FE, N.M. – Public Health officials in New Mexico say there is currently no evidence that the Zika virus has spread to the state, but they’re taking precautions.

The disease, which is rampant in parts of Latin America, is believed to cause severe birth defects if contracted by a woman during pregnancy.

Paul Ettestad, a veterinarian for the New Mexico Department of Public Health, says the state’s approach to prevention is to keep health care workers informed on the disease.

“We have a health alert network where we have several thousand of health care providers around New Mexico,” he points out. “We’ll send them out the email with the health advisory with signs and symptoms to look out for and details in terms of what samples to collect to diagnose the illness.”

Ettestad says while no one in New Mexico has been diagnosed with the Zika virus, about 30 cases have been identified in other states among people who have recently traveled to southern Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted warnings regarding travel to those regions.

Ettestad says Zika is transmitted by the yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito. Both are in parts of southern and eastern New Mexico.

He says, so far, there is no evidence that the virus can be spread from person-to-person, but a mosquito that bites an infected human can pass it along.

“There is the potential for someone who could bring it into our southern counties of New Mexico, where we do have the species of mosquitoes that can potentially transmit the Zika virus,” he states.

Health officials are asking residents to take precautions against exposure to mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves and long pants, and keeping windows closed.

Residents can also take steps to deprive mosquitoes of breeding grounds by removing standing pools of water.

Author:  Mark Richardson, Public News Service (NM)