The warming temperatures of summer are bringing more than the ice cream man to New York this year. The warm winds are also bringing the very real threat of the Zika virus to our area. Other nations have been dealing with these mosquito borne diseases for decades and after coming down with dengue in 2009, I can attest to the disease’s ability to cripple those affected. With the inevitable discovery of Zika here in the continental United States we must initiate a multi-pronged approach to prevention and eradication. The CDC is working hard to understand both how the disease progresses in and how it affects humans, but with little data and more people infected daily, this is proving to be difficult. The CDC and their global partners have already committed to a robust public campaign meant to educate the public on how to defend themselves from the disease’s vectors and to recognize the signs of infection. In the midst of the crisis in South America, the government of El Salvador is actively asking its citizens to refrain from sexual activity to avoid an epidemic.
While only the most southern part of New York is considered temperate enough to support the primary type of mosquitoes responsible for transmission, the state has already reported the highest number of infected individuals. With such a diverse population living in close proximity to a global travel hub, it is not if we will be affected by Zika, but when. Because there is no vaccine and the infection cycle is poorly understood the experts are pushing prevention. Farmers spend a lot of time outside this time of year and the mosquito that spreads Zika is primarily active during the daytime hours. Using bug spray, wearing long sleeves and pants when possible, and emptying small vessels of standing water are all ways to decrease your chances of acquiring the disease. Many of these precautions will also go a long way in preventing tick bites. It has been reported that livestock are not at risk because the mosquitoes are uniquely designed to find and feed from strictly human hosts. But that is not always the case. There are many diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. The study of zoonotics seeks to understand and prevent these transmissions. We are privileged to be hosting a class on the topic here at the Ulster County Extension Office. The class will be led by John Albarino, R.N., M.S., who is a volunteer educator and owner of Lord’s Land Farm. This class will focus on diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people such as E. coli, Salmonella, and influenza. We will also review bio security strategies and plans to keep you and your animals safe. The class is free, and walk-ins are welcome. If history tells us anything, it’s that these diseases are going to become more prevalent and virulent as the human and animal population continues to expand on the planet earth. It is time that we as producers begin to take precautions now whether it is investing in bug spray, learning what we can about zoonotic diseases, or utilizing integrated pest management to help control disease vectors. The responsibility is ours to keep ourselves and our stock healthy and productive.