New York to expand free Zika testing to pregnant women – Reuters

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March 9 New York is expanding free Zika virus
testing to pregnant women who had unprotected sex with a partner
who had traveled to a Zika-infected area, the state’s health
department said on Wednesday.

The state already offers testing to pregnant women who
traveled during pregnancy to an area where Zika is circulating,
and to non-pregnant women, men or children who developed
symptoms of Zika within four weeks of travel to an area with
active Zika transmission.

Only one in five people infected with the Zika virus will
develop symptoms, which are typically mild, but there have been
increased reports of a birth defect known as microcephaly, a
condition defined by unusually small heads that can result in
developmental problems.

Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus
actually causes microcephaly. Brazil said it has confirmed more
than 640 cases of the disease and considers most to be related
to Zika infection in mothers. The country is investigating more
than 4,200 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday advised pregnant
women not to travel to areas with active Zika virus and said
sexual transmission is “relatively common.”

WHO director-general Margaret Chan told reporters that
microcephaly is only one of several birth abnormalities
associated with Zika during pregnancy. Others include death,
retardation and injury to the nervous system.

Dr. Howard Zucker, commissioner of New York’s health
department, said that the department is expanding testing “as
evidence has emerged that the risk of sexual transmission is
greater than previously known.”

The department is investigating one possible case of sexual
transmission. It recommends, along with the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, that men who have traveled to or lived
in an area with active virus transmission abstain from sex or
use condoms throughout their partner’s pregnancy.

The department is also working with local health officials
in counties inhabited by a type of mosquito that could
potentially carry the Zika virus to update and implement a
mosquito surveillance and response plan.

In Central and South America the virus has been transmitted
mainly by the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito, which is not
present in New York State. But a related species, known as Aedes
albopictus, is present in New York City and surrounding
counties. Researchers are not sure if Aedes albopictus can
effectively transmit the virus.

The WHO said on Wednesday that widespread spraying to
eliminate mosquitoes had failed to stop the spread of dengue
fever and the same may be true of Zika.

(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; editing by Grant

New York to expand free Zika testing to pregnant women – Reuters