Florida Department of Health tests rigorously for Zika
Written by Camila Cepero on November 29, 2016
The Florida Department of Health’s process for identifying, testing, investigating and informing the public about cases of locally acquired Zika virus is extensive and in some cases may require up to 15 rigorous steps.
This is the current process, but as the department learns more about the Zika virus, it may change and updates will be made available, the organization said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika can be transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, sexual contact, blood transfusion and from pregnant mothers to their baby.
The first step of the process is to identify whether the virus has been transmitted. If the person is a pregnant woman, she may receive a free Zika assessment at Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, the local branch of the statewide Florida Department of Health.
“Zika testing is available for free in Miami-Dade County and statewide to pregnant women and anyone who meets CDC testing criteria at local county health departments or at their local health care provider,” said Florida Health Department spokeswoman Sarah Revell.
“If a person is not pregnant and does not meet CDC testing criteria, he or she can inquire about a Zika test and its cost through their local health care provider or with a private lab,” Ms. Revell said.
The Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County currently has a staff of 750, of whom 1% are physicians and 22% provide professional health care.
“Florida has three public health labs that conduct Zika testing and we have contracted with a private lab as well,” Ms. Revell said.
The department has tested more than 10,580 people through its public health labs, but numbers for the private lab are unavailable.
After screening potentially infected people, if the physician determines the person meets criteria for Zika testing, the test is ordered and urine and blood samples are sent to a laboratory for testing and analysis
The person is then reported by the health care provider to the county health department as a person under investigation who might have Zika virus even though many people tested have negative test results.
Afterward, the county health department contacts mosquito control within 24 hours of notification of a potential case to conduct a mosquito assessment and begin mosquito elimination around the person’s residence.
This strategy is proactive and occurs even before the delivery of any laboratory test results.
Per the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, mosquito control includes looking for standing water and mosquito breeding grounds, spraying within 150 yards of the person’s home and other areas of interest, and education and outreach to residents in the area on drain and cover precautions.
The laboratory that conducts the test shares the results with the medical provider who submitted the specimens for testing along with Department of Health. If there is a positive test result, Department of Health epidemiologists investigate to determine where exposure might have occurred.
A person is confirmed as a case if circumstances meet the CDC definition, and the most likely mode of transmission is identified – travel-related, mosquito-borne, sexual or congenital.
For confirmed and probable cases, the Department of Health contacts mosquito control to conduct a secondary assessment and more aggressive mosquito elimination techniques. The department then adds the confirmed case to the daily Zika update which is distributed to media and partners. The investigation is continued to determine if and where active ongoing local transmission is occurring. If additional cases are found, a map is developed to identify the possible area of local transmission.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently announced that the Florida Health Department has not detected any additional local transmissions of Zika in the north portion of Miami Beach, part of a previously active Zika zone, in more than 45 days, leading officials to lift the ban on that portion of the zone.
The newly lifted area is about three miles, from 28th to 63rd streets. The remaining area of active Zika transmission in Miami-Dade includes south Miami Beach with about 1.5 square miles between Eighth and 28th streets and the Little River area with about one square mile.
The last few steps in the Department of Health’s protocol involve disseminating the information to the public and announcing the area of local transmission.
The Department of Health then continues to work with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, local mosquito control districts and private providers to increase spraying and trapping activities in areas of local transmission in accordance with CDC guidelines until it can be determined that local transmission is no longer occurring.