Texas Health Officials Recommend Additional Zika Testing


The Texas Department of State Health and Human Services has changed its testing recommendations for residents in six counties.

As of April 7, 2017, a total of 1,297 pregnancies in 44 states had been reported to the US Zika Pregnancy Registry. With winter finally over, the coming months will mean more to pregnant women in the United States than just a little heat, as the warm weather brings with it mosquitoes, some of which may be carrying the Zika virus. And, although most Zika cases seen in the United States have been in Florida, six cases in 2016 were reported in southern Texas.

In fact, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recently reported an increased risk of Zika virus transmission in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and thereby released a health alert changing its Zika testing recommendations for six counties.

The recommendations state that pregnant women living in Cameron County, Hidalgo County, Starr County, Webb County, Willacy County, and Zapata County, should be tested for the mosquito-borne infection “as part of routine prenatal care… at their first prenatal care visit and again in the second trimester.” In addition, any pregnant woman who presents with Zika-like symptoms at any stage of pregnancy should be tested or re-tested for the virus. Testing is also recommended for non-pregnant residents of the aforementioned counties “who exhibit a rash and at least one other common Zika symptom, either fever, joint pain, or conjunctivitis.”

The DSHS recommends using the Zika testing algorithm set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. If an individual has a positive IgM test result, supplemental plaque-reduction neutralization tests (PRNT) are recommended.

In a supplemental press release regarding the changes in testing recommendations, DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, stated, “We do not want cost to prevent anyone from getting tested. If the cost of testing would be a barrier for a patient, providers should contact their local or regional health department for information about testing through the public health system.” Thus, those individuals who are not covered for testing through health insurance or Medicaid, may turn to the DHSH laboratory for Zika testing.

The criteria for Zika testing for Texas residents outside of the six counties mentioned above remain the same: testing should be administered to “anyone who has at least three of four Zika symptoms and all pregnant women who have traveled to areas with ongoing Zika transmission, including any travel to any part of Mexico.” More detailed information on Zika “testing recommendations and timeframes to wait before trying to conceive by geographic location” is available through the CDC website.

According to Commissioner Hellerstedt, “Zika remains a significant health risk to pregnant women and their babies, and it’s only a matter of time until we see local transmission here again. We want to cast as wide a net as possible with testing to increase our ability to find and respond to cases, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley remains the part of the state most at risk for Zika transmission.”

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