As Zika cases in the U.S. climb, federal health officials are boosting the capability of laboratories across the county to speed up testing for the potentially deadly virus faster.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Tuesday that it purchased approximately $2.5 million in laboratory supplies and equipment to enhance testing for the virus.
These purchases help to ensure that states can meet the growing demand for testing and rapid identification of Zika infection, by providing them with materials that allow them to perform testing, the CDC says.
Relatively few labs in the U.S. are certified to test for Zika. As a result, when samples are collected, they often have to be shipped to a local health department lab for testing. If the local health department lab doesn’t currently perform Zika testing, it will coordinate testing and ship the samples to CDC. Depending on the lab’s workload, processing and reporting time of a result may take 2 to 4 weeks, the CDC says.
People living in the 4.5 square-mile area of Miami Beach, which is currently the only “hot zone,” in the U.S. where homegrown Zika is being transmitted, have complained of having to wait several weeks to learn results of the testing, Newsmax Health has reported. This is particularly stressful to pregnant women and their loved ones, as the virus is linked to the devastating birth defect microcephaly, in which babies are born with too-small heads and brain damage.
In addition to Miami Beach, the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood was a “hot zone,” but it was declared safe on Friday, after no new homegrown Zika cases were reported over a 45-day period. However, the CDC is still warning pregnant women avoid non-essential travel to the entire Miami-Dade County area, which encompasses both Wynwood and Miami Beach.
In Florida, Zika cases continue to mount. A total of 857 Zika cases have been logged in the state including 11 new travel-related cases, which includes one pregnant woman, bringing that total to 671. There have also been 89 cases if homegrown Zika. Eighty-seven women who were infected while pregnant are being monitored, the Florida Department of Health said Tuesday.
That tally included 11 new travel-related cases with four in Orange, three in Hillsborough, two in Ocesola, and one in Seminole. There have been four cases of homegrown Zika, three associated with the Miami Beach investigation and one believed to have occurred somewhere in Miami-Dade County.
Also in terms of testing, the CDC has sent 43 states, the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico and nine Department of Defense (DOD) laboratories material that allows them to conduct testing for recent Zika infection using a CDC-developed test called the MAC-ELISA. MAC-ELISA tests are intended for use in detecting antibodies that the body makes to fight a Zika virus infection.
In addition, the CDC is sending additional materials to labs that are certified to use them a second CDC-developed Zika test, called the Trioplex rRT-PCR test, which allows doctors to tell if an individual is currently infected with chikungunya, dengue, or Zika using just one test, rather than three separate tests for each virus.
The Zika virus can make anyone sick for up to a week with the following flu-like symptoms:
- Joint pain.
- Red eyes.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, making prevention essential. Health experts recommend taking the following precautions:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants outdoors.
- Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes breed.
- Use repellents to keep mosquitoes away.
- Use air conditioning and window screens if possible.
- Call your health care provider if you are at risk of infection.
Last month, Consumer Reports released new rankings of mosquito repellents that offer the best protection against Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, the type that carry the Zika virus. They tested products containing deet, plantlike ingredients lemon eucalyptus and picaridin. The most effective products:
- Sawyer Fisherman's Formula Picaridin.
- Natrapel 8 Hour, with 20 percent picaridin.
- Off! Deepwoods VIII, w/25 percent deet.
- Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.
The magazine also recommended skipping products made with natural plant oils, such as California Baby Natural Bug Blend (a blend of citronella, lemongrass oil, cedar oil, and other ingredients) and EcoSmart Organic, (which includes geraniol, rosemary oil, cinnamon oil, and lemongrass oil).
Women who are pregnant or breast feeding can safely use deet, picaridin, lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535, according to the EPA.
Other tips for using insect repellents safely and effectively:
- Apply repellents sparingly, and only to exposed skin or clothing.
- Don’t apply repellents over cuts, wounds, irritated skin, or after shaving.
- When applying to your face, spray first on your hands, then rub in, avoiding your eyes and mouth.
- Don’t let young children apply repellents themselves
- Don’t use near food, and wash hands after application and before eating.
- At the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water, and wash treated clothing in a separate wash before wearing again.
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