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Schaer & Prieto Bill to Help New Jersey Combat Spread of Zika Virus Gains Assembly Approval

Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schaer and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to help New Jersey ready itself against the encroaching Zika virus was approved unanimously by the full Assembly on Thursday.

“The CDC has warned that a Zika vaccine is likely several years away. Meanwhile, neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania have already developed action plans,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “In June we saw the first baby born in New Jersey with Zika-related microcephaly, the results of which can have a devastating, lifelong impact on both a child and their family. The time to act is now before it’s too late and we’re left scrambling if the virus continues to spread northward.”

According to health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Zika represents a significant danger to pregnant women because it can lead to congenital malformations and neurological complications in infants born to infected women, causing children to be born with abnormally small heads and potential developmental problems.

“As of the end of September, 146 New Jersey residents have been diagnosed with Zika this year, with 16 cases in Hudson County and 26 in Bergen,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “For couples who are pregnant or looking to conceive this can be frightening and potentially devastating. While these cases are believed to have been contracted outside of New Jersey, we need a comprehensive plan to limit the spread of the virus at home.”

The bill (A-3969) would require the Department of Health (DOH) to develop a Zika Virus State Action Plan to reduce the impact of infection from the virus on residents of New Jersey. The plan, at a minimum, would:
– identify protocols for limiting the spread of the Zika virus which would include, but not be limited to, emptying standing water in target areas where mosquitoes breed;
– provide for the trapping and testing of mosquitoes in an area where the virus is suspected to have been transmitted; include an eradication plan to target an area that has been affected by the transmission of the virus; and
– provide for upgrading or increasing the Public Health Laboratory Services in DOH, as necessary, to be able to obtain prompt results following testing for the virus.

Under the bill, DOH would coordinate implementation of the plan with other state and local entities, and take such other action as the Commissioner of Health deems necessary to reduce the impact of Zika virus in New Jersey.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.