Houston Health Department able to test locally for Zika virus

- Just this week, a sixth case of the Zika virus was confirmed in Houston, with five additional cases in the surrounding Harris County area.

But there is a bit of good news.

The Houston Health Department can now test for the virus in one day instead of waiting the usual two weeks for the CDC to analyze it. Officials can now test samples in Houston instead of shipping samples off.

“Right now we're able to do a one day turnaround in notification and confirmation. Before, there may have been two weeks before we sent it to the CDC before we come back with the results,” said Porfirio Villarreal with the Houston Health Department.

The process also tests samples for dengue and chikungunya which can present with similar symptoms.

Seventeen surrounding counties will be able to benefit from this, but the timing has to be right. People who suspect they may have the Zika virus must be tested the first week they have symptoms which can include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes.

“The symptoms are caused by the presence of the high level of virus in the blood stream. After the first week, that level diminishes to an undetectable amount,” Dr. Larry Seigler the laboratory director of the Houston Dealth Department.

So when the symptoms disappear, those with Zika won't be able to use the one-day turnaround test to see whether the virus is present. Instead, people will have to undergo another diagnostic test which can take weeks.

According to health officials, only 1 in 5 people who get Zika will experience symptoms. Pregnant women should take particular care, because Zika has been linked to babies born with abnormally small heads.

The virus has been reported in Houston.

“All of the cases that have Zika, which are 6, have a travel history, so they went to other countries and returned with the illness. They're fine, they recovered,” said Villarreal.

“It is very important for those persons who have active symptoms of Zika to remain protected from mosquitoes because we don’t want local mosquitoes to become infected by biting a Zika-infected person and then spreading it through the mosquito population in this area,” said Dr. Seigler.

Mosquitos are the primary mode of transmission for this virus.

Currently, Houston health officials do not believe local mosquito pools are infected with Zika, but they are warning people to be extra vigilant when the mosquito breeding season begins in May.

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