DSHS Lab Now Testing for Zika Virus

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reports the state has had 18 confirmed cases of Zika virus. One case involves a Dallas County resident who had sexual contact with someone who acquired the infection while traveling abroad. The other 17 cases were in travelers infected abroad and diagnosed after they returned home. DSHS is now testing for Zika virus at its public health lab in Austin. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages Texas physicians to report suspected Zika virus cases to DSHS.

DSHS reports the state lab can currently handle up to 135 human specimens per week, and capacity across the state is increasing as local labs add testing capability in anticipation of a possible surge in demand.

According to DSHS, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry Zika virus, can be found in Texas, particularly in urban areas in the south and southeast portions of the state. While there is no evidence of local transmission by Texas mosquitoes now, state health officials have implemented Zika virus prevention plans in anticipation of increased mosquito activity and the potential for local mosquito transmission.

To help ensure Texas physicians have all they need to diagnose the virus, DSHS has updated its texaszika.org website with a supplemental testing information form and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and serology specimen criteria form. The PCR test can confirm the presence of Zika virus. Serologic testing can detect Zika infection in people who may not have had symptoms, and the test can be conducted up to 12 weeks after infection. DSHS says a positive serologic test result requires confirmatory testing to pinpoint Zika because it can cross-react with other viruses, such as dengue.

DSHS is working with local officials in the Rio Grande Valley area, a potential hot spot for Zika virus transmission, to monitor mosquito activity. The agency reports spot trapping in the area in February yielded no Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. DSHS urges communities to consider expanding their surveillance in coordination with local mosquito control efforts.

CDC issued a Zika virus health advisory in January with information and recommendations for recognizing, managing, and reporting infections in travelers returning from Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. The advisory also provides travel guidance for pregnant women and women who are trying to become pregnant. 

The disease can cause fever, rash, muscle and joint aches, and red eyes and also has been linked to the birth defect microcephaly and other poor birth outcomes in some women infected during their pregnancy.

A health advisory on the sexual transmission of Zika virus sent to physicians by the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services (DCHHS) advises clinicians to consider Zika virus infection in patients (including pregnant women) with two or more compatible symptoms (fever, rash, conjunctivitis, or joint pain) within two weeks of travel to an area with active Zika virus transmission. The department says the infection also should be considered in patients with compatible clinical syndrome but without travel history who report recent unprotected sexual contact (within the previous two weeks) with a person with a compatible history of illness and history of travel.

The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have prepared guidance for physicians on the Zika virus and pregnant patients.

To discuss testing, clinicians can contact the DCHHS epidemiology division at (214) 819-2004 or (214) 677-7899. 

State health officials continue to encourage people to follow travel precautions. CDC is currently advising pregnant women to delay travel to foreign countries where Zika is being transmitted. 

More Information 

General information about Zika virus 
Information for clinicians  
Protection against mosquitoes 
Zika virus travel notices

Action, March 15, 2016

Last Updated On

July 11, 2016