Blood samples must be received within five days of first zika symptom, says CARPHA

Zika blood samples for laboratory confirmation must be taken and sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) no more than five days from the onset of the first sign and/or symptom.Executive director, CARPHA, Dr C. James Hospedales, explained that CARPHA uses RT-PCR (molecular) tests for laboratory confirmation of the zika virus infection. He said that samples must be taken and sent to the agency no more than five days from the onset of the first sign and/or symptom.

Hospedales explained that samples collected, sent and received after the five-day period may not be valid for PCR testing. However, since dengue and chikungunya are still circulating in the region and the symptoms are similar, CARPHA routinely tests all samples for these three diseases.

CARPHA is one of only two laboratories in the English-speaking Caribbean that has the technical capacity to accurately test for zika virus, and the agency continues to work on offering additional testing methods that are valid beyond five days.

Local transmission of the zika virus has been reported in 45 Caribbean and Latin American states, with almost all CARPHA member states having confirmed cases. In countries, where local transmission has already been confirmed, there is no need for everyone to be tested. In light of this, only persons who are in ‘high risk’ categories, namely, pregnant women, children under the age of five years, adults over 65 years, hospitalised patients and persons with co-morbidities (with chronic illnesses), will be tested.

CARPHA does not accept samples directly from the public, nor does it draw a person’s blood. Therefore, persons exhibiting symptoms of zika such as fever, rash, red eyes, muscle pains and joint pains, should visit their health care provider.

In countries where local transmission has not yet been established, CARPHA will continue to receive and test samples from the national referral laboratories in member states. In Trinidad and Tobago, where CARPHA is headquartered, all samples from that country must be sent to the Trinidad Public Health Laboratory (TPHL), which is Trinidad and Tobago’s national reference laboratory.

Results for all samples tested at CARPHA are sent back to the national referral laboratories, which will then disseminate to the health care provider. Test results are usually provided within a week, but additional time may be needed when there are extensive outbreaks.

Many people infected with the zika virus may not have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms of zika are:

• Fever
• Rash
• Joint pain
• Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
• Muscle pain
• Headache

CARPHA urged persons, especially pregnant women, to take necessary steps to prevent mosquito bites that transmit zika:

• wear long sleeved clothing and pants;
• use insect repellent as recommended by health authorities;
• sleep under mosquito nets;
• monitor and clean their surroundings;
• use screens or mosquito nets in windows and doors to reduce contact with mosquitoes.

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