MANHATTAN — Erica Jackowitz was forced to cancel a trip to Puerto Rico this past weekend for a bachelorette party, but her obstetrician told her she had no other choice.
Jackowitz is 16 ½ weeks pregnant with her second child; she’s expecting a girl.
Puerto Rico is considered “Ground Zero” for potential infection from the Zika virus, which is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
“I’ve never heeded travel warnings,” Jackowitz told PIX11, “be it terrorist attacks or anything else. With Zika and being pregnant, this is one instance where kind of everything stops.”
We met Jackowitz at her high-end travel firm, Roman and Erica, which is located on Third Avenue in Manhattan.
She is well-versed in the Zika outbreak, which has hit 30 countries — many of them in the Caribbean and South America.
Prior to March 2, Jackowitz told PIX11 the airlines were giving flight refunds to certain destinations, with no questions asked.
That has changed now.
“If it (the flight) was booked after those dates, you should have been fully aware of the situation,” Jackowitz said, in explaining the regulations, “and they’re not granting refunds. Travel insurance is not covering it, because right now, it’s still a travel warning.”
In pregnant women, Zika is suspected of causing microcephaly to fetuses in utero—under-developed brains and heads–with more than 600 confirmed cases in babies in Brazil—and 4,200 more being looked at by investigators.
It can also cause an autoimmune disease, Guillain-Barre’, which can impact anyone, causing muscle weakness, paralysis, and even respiratory failure.
Dr. Robert Glatter, attending physician in the Emergency Department at Lenox Hill Hospital, said even though the virus has not been contracted inside the United States at this point, the U.S. needs to heed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, which wanted Congress to earmark nearly $2 million for a mosquito battle in Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory.
“We really need to get ahead of this problem right now,” Glatter said.
We spoke to Glatter the same week that CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, traveled to Puerto Rico to meet with officials at the Emergency Operations Center in San Juan.
Frieden had testified before Congress last month, telling lawmakers “We may well see tens or hundreds of thousands of Zika infections in Puerto Rico.”
The cases there are doubling each week, with one in five Puerto Rico residents expected to be infected by year’s end.
There’s also a belief now that Zika can be spread sexually, and not just through the mosquito bite, because the virus can stay in semen more than 60 days.
Symptoms of fever, joint pain, or facial rash only show up in 20 percent of the cases.
“There are over 3,000 species of mosquitoes,” Dr. Glatter pointed out, “and only a few of these species are actually able to transmit diseases.”
The Aedes aegypti mosquito is not present in the United States, but Glatter points out its “cousin”—the Asian tiger mosquito—is here and could possibly be a carrier at some point.
Glatter talked about “gene editing” that could possibly produce many more male mosquitoes in the Aedes aegypti population and eliminate many of the females, which do the biting and lay the eggs.
The life span of these mosquitoes is generally about 17 days.
Erica Jackowitz notes that many of her clients didn’t take their Caribbean vacations over the winter, so they’re making other plans.
“Europe is hot,” Jackowitz said. “People can’t wait for the summer season, to get out to Europe.”