Healthy Living: San Diego Health Department increases Zika testing

A new report shows the Zika Virus poses an even greater risk for birth defects than first thought. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now said about 1 in 10 pregnant women infected with Zika in the U.S. last year had a baby with serious birth defects.

Problems include vision and hearing defects, learning disabilities and, in extreme cases, micro-cephaly which prevents the head and brain from developing correctly.

San Diego had its first Zika-related case of a baby born with micro-cephaly just two weeks ago. Since the epidemic began in 2015 in Brazil, the County Health Department has stepped up its testing for Zika and vector control has been diligent in its spraying for mosquitos, the primary way the virus is spread.

The San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency’s public health lab is a busy place these days, testing specimens of people who’ve traveled to high risk Zika areas, and there are lots of them. 

Evidence of Zika has been detected in 84 countries across the globe. More than 1,300 blood samples have been tested in this San Diego County lab.

"We have 87 travel-related cases of Zika in San Diego," said San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.

Until recently, San Diego-area labs had to send their samples out to the CDC for testing, but not anymore. They can do all the work here and get results in 24 hours.

The reason for the stepped up testing is because San Diego is adjacent to a high risk country.

"San Diego is also a border city and there are many areas in Mexico that are Zika cities," Dr. Wooten said.

There is some progress being made in protecting people from the virus. Researchers are one step closer to developing a vaccine for the Zika virus. 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has shown success in early trials of a DNA vaccine candidate and volunteers across the Americas are signing up to help with the next phase.

Eleven clinics are participating, including locations in Miami, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Mexico. 

Ninety healthy adults will be divided into groups and will receive different doses of the vaccine, testing its safety.

Researchers will then conduct a randomized control trial, using either the vaccine or a placebo on 2,400 hundred people who are not infected, but who live in areas where Zika has been transmitted. 

The biggest question for researchers now is funding. The trial is fully funded through this phase, but money for the next phase is still up in the air.

The Trump Administration has proposed an 18 percent cut to the budget of the National Institute of Health and it’s unclear at this point how that cut will affect the trial if approved by Congress.

As of now, the best way to protect yourself from Zika is to wear insect repellant.

With warm weather, a new mosquito season and summer travel are almost here. Health officials say now is not the time to let your guard down.

Categories: Healthy Living