CDC Offering Zika Virus Tests for Pregnant Women
Two U.S. women who contracted the virus while abroad suffered miscarriages, according to reports
By Dennis Thompson
THURSDAY, Feb. 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials are shipping test kits for the Zika virus to health departments around the country. They are to be used by pregnant women returning from Latin America and the Caribbean, where the virus may be to blame for severe birth defects.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also recommending that pregnant women avoid those regions of Central and South America and the Caribbean where Zika virus has been identified and officials have described it as spreading "explosively."
So far, the epidemic has seemingly been limited to Brazil. It is suspected -- but not proven -- that the virus is to blame for a birth defect called microcephaly that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and possible brain damage.
The CDC is telling doctors to test the women for Zika infection between two weeks and 12 weeks after they return home. Those thought to have been infected could then have ultrasound scans to monitor their fetus' development.
The CDC's director, Dr. Tom Frieden, said Thursday that the agency has shipped about 12,000 of 62,000 available Zika tests to health departments in three dozen states and is working to produce 30,000 more tests.
The CDC has said it does not expect the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquito bites, to become widespread in the United States.
On Wednesday, U.S. health officials reported that traces of the Zika virus had been identified in the tissue of two babies who died in Brazil from microcephaly.
The discovery doesn't prove the Zika virus is the cause of thousands of cases of microcephaly in Brazilian babies since the spring. But, it's the firmest connection yet that the pathogen may be to blame, Frieden told a Congressional panel, USA Today reported.
"This is the strongest evidence to date that Zika is the cause of microcephaly," Frieden told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But, he added, more tests are needed to confirm that the Zika virus is the cause of the birth defect.