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Watch out for companies peddling Zika prevention scams

New York's attorney general is going after companies that advertise ineffective insect repellents to cash in on fears over the Zika virus.

State attorney general Eric Schneiderman said Wednesday that his office has sent letters to seven companies telling them to stop marketing products as "Zika-preventive" or "Zika-protective," CBS New York reports.

Schneiderman said the products include wristbands, patches and ultrasound devices that "plug into your wall and supposedly it gets rid of mosquitoes, rodents and I don't know what else -- gamma rays coming from Martians."

His office has also issued a consumer alert to state residents about deceptive practices.

"Our goal is to get this stuff off the market," Schneiderman said, adding that if the companies persist his office will seek damages.

New York's attorney general is cracking down on sham Zika prevention products. Juliet Papa/CBS New York

The tropical mosquito that carries Zika is not normally found in New York. But at least 537 people infected with the virus have been confirmed in the state -- all apparently connected with travel to affected areas, state health officials said Tuesday. Five cases were sexually transmitted.

The Zika virus has been coursing through Latin America and the Caribbean. More than a dozen Zika cases in a Miami neighborhood are believed to be the first mosquito-transmitted cases in the mainland U.S.

"There are no magic objects that will keep mosquitoes at bay," said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, who joined Schneiderman in discussing the Zika threat.

"Don't waste your money on these products," she warned.

The attorney general advised people to avoid ultrasonic and botanical mosquito repellents, as well as Vitamin B-based repellents, saying studies have found these to be ineffective.

The office said the following products do not work and should be avoided: Wildheart Outdoors Natural Mosquito Repellent Bracelet; MosQUITo Repellent Bracelet Wristband Band; Neor Mosquito Repellent Bracelet; Kenza High Quality Zika Mosquito Repellent Smiley Patch; Mobile Pro Gear ZIKA Shield Mosquito Repellent Bands; STAR Ultrasonic Pest Repeller; and iGear iGuard 2.0 Ultrasonic Insect Pest Repellent.

The Federal Trade Commission this spring fined one wristband maker $300,000 for falsely claiming its bands create a five-foot mosquito barrier protecting wearers for days.

What really works?

There are a number of reputable insect repellents that can provide protection, including those that contain DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC lists several brand names on its website.

Bassett said many of the products are available at pharmacies and in travel size packaging. She urged women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to avoid travel to Zika-affected areas because the risk of serious birth defects is real. A complete list of those locations can be found on the CDC website.

People in Zika-affected areas are advised to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and use insect repellent. Window and door screens, and staying in places with air conditioning, are advised as well.

Home and business owners should be vigilant about getting rid of standing water -- in flower pots, buckets, and old tires, for example -- where mosquitoes might lay eggs.

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