Laboratories Lead the Fight Against Zika
We are rapidly approaching Medical Laboratory Professionals
the annual celebration of the medical laboratory profession, and those who play
such a vital role in the delivery of quality healthcare. It has been celebrated
annually since 1975, during the last full week of April, and once again, the
vital role of the laboratory is highlighted by recent advances in dealing with
the Zika virus—a public health threat, not only locally or nationally, but also
On February 23rd, USA Today reported that Texas Children’s
Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital had developed a rapid test for the Zika
Virus based on genomic research. This new test detects the presence of genetic
material from the Zika virus, and this specificity allows the test to
distinguish Zika virus infections from other mosquito-borne infections like
dengue or the West Nile Virus. This is very significant, since Brazil, as well
as many other countries in the Americas, has mosquitos that can carry all these
infections, and distinguishing among these facilitates the correct response as
rapidly as possible. The tests, which can be performed on blood, amniotic
fluid, urine or spinal fluid, will provide results in just a few hours.
This information was provided in an interview with James Versalovic,
pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital. “We must be prepared for a
surge of Zika testing demand,” Versalovic said. “We must provide answers for
anxious moms-to-be and families."
As of February 23rd, 2016, at least 82 Americans had been
diagnosed with Zika after visiting areas with Zika outbreaks and returning to
the U.S., according to the CDC. Health officials expect hundreds more to
develop the virus because of travel, especially as Americans visit Brazil for
the Olympic games this summer. The mosquito that spreads the Zika virus, Aedes aegypti, is present in the South.
Many public health officials fear that the Gulf Coast could be vulnerable to
Zika, due to both its climate and pockets of poverty.
All of that could put pressure on public health
laboratories, which could struggle to keep up with the demand for Zika tests,
Doctors will initially offer the test to people who meet
specific criteria—such as recent travel to a place with an outbreak and
Zika-like symptoms, which include a rash, join pain or fever. Pregnant women
who have traveled to a place with a Zika outbreak also will be offered the
test, regardless of whether they have symptoms, according to Texas Children's
Hospital. Four out of five people with Zika infections have no symptoms.
Whenever possible, we should proudly celebrate the
contributions of our profession to public health and safety, and the leadership
role that laboratories and laboratory professionals continue to play.