When the media started reporting on the Zika virus outbreak in South America earlier this year, Rutgers graduate Jennifer Rakeman knew she and her staff were in for a very busy 2016.
Rakeman is the assistant commissioner and laboratory director for the New York City Public Health Lab. Among her responsibilities is conducting testing when there is an outbreak of a disease, and when Zika hit the news, she knew the virus was going to make its way to New York.
“New York City is a place where a lot of people travel to and emigrate to,” Rakeman says. “We have many people living in New York City who were born in and visit countries impacted early on in this outbreak. We knew we were going to be doing a lot of testing here.”
Rakeman has been at the forefront of testing for Zika, with the lab conducting more than 8,000 tests. As of mid-September, there have been 550 positive results, including 58 for pregnant women.
Dealing with a disease such as Zika means processing new information as more is learned about it. The disease is transmitted mainly through the bite of the Aedes mosquito. While those mosquitoes aren’t in New York, Rakeman says a relative of it is, so there is testing of mosquitoes in New York City, even if it is unlikely the disease will be found in any of the city’s pests.
“We don’t expect that but we want to be prepared, just in case,” she says. “I’ve learned more about mosquitoes in the last months than I ever thought I’d need to know as a microbiologist, so we’re constantly learning.”
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