Emergency approval has been granted for the first commercial test for Zika, a move the medical community is calling a major development in the country’s fight against the mosquito-borne virus.
The test will enable doctors to test and diagnose patients in their own offices without having to send blood samples to state public health laboratories or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the Zika diagnostic test is the latest effort to proactively fight Zika. The latest outbreak erupted last fall in Brazil. The virus is spread by mosquitoes and through sexual contract with someone who has been infected with the virus.
Reports of Zika virus have been reported in the U.S., but those individuals contracted the virus while traveling to an infected area or through sexual contact with someone infected with the virus. Public health officials warn that as the warmer weather comes to the U.S., so will Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
Only about 20 percent of people infected with Zika experience symptoms, and those who do generally experience mild flu-like symptoms. But pregnant women who become infected are at risk of having a baby with a serious birth defects including microcephaly, a condition in which children are born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.
The new test, made by Quest Diagnostics, should be available to doctors next week. Called PCR, it can detect genetic material from the Zika virus in four to seven days after symptoms begin.
People who believe they have been infected but are no longer symptomatic will not test positive since Zika leaves he body after about a week. They can take a different test that detects Zika antibodies, but this test is not as reliable.