Gov. Scott seeks more workers to speed Zika tests

Amid gripes that pregnant women are waiting four weeks or longer for results of Zika tests, Gov. Rick Scott said the CDC has provided state labs with seven workers to help speed the process.

“While these additional personnel will help to expedite Zika testing, we know that there is an increasing demand for testing throughout our state and we must be prepared to respond,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott said he has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide more lab workers. Since the Florida Department of Health began offering free tests to pregnant women in early August, some 2,200 expectant mothers have been tested.

The Health Department tells patients to expect to wait about two weeks for results, but Dr. Anthony Shaya, an OB-GYN in Jupiter, said his patients have waited as long as four weeks.

“We are having trouble getting results,” Shaya said.

Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the Health Department’s Palm Beach County operations, said most results come in faster than that.

“I’ve been told it takes about two weeks,” he said. “That’s what we’re advising our patients.”

For most Floridians, Zika isn’t especially scary. Some 80 percent of people afflicted with the mosquito-borne virus show no symptoms. And for those who suffer from a fever, rash or red eyes, the ill effects are typically mild and fleeting.

But for expectant mothers, Zika is terrifying. The virus can penetrate the placenta barrier and cause severe brain defects in the fetus.

The Department of Health offers Zika tests at its locations in Delray Beach, Lantana, Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach. Nurses collect urine and blood samples, which are sent to state labs in Miami or Jacksonville for testing.

For expectant mothers who value convenience and a quick answer over saving money, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics also offer Zika tests. Patients can pay as much as $300 for those tests, said Dr. Samuel Lederman, an OB-GYN in suburban Lake Worth.

The private labs are returning results in as little as a week, Lederman said. None of Lederman’s patients had tested positive, but if a private lab were to find a Zika infection, it would send the samples to the state for confirmation, O’Connor said.

The CDC says pregnant women need a test only if they’ve traveled to an area of active transmission, such as Puerto Rico, Brazil, Miami Beach or the Wynwood district in Miami.

“If somebody has had no exposure, I try to discourage them,” Lederman said.

As of Thursday, 86 pregnant women in Florida had Zika. The virus doesn’t necessarily reach the baby, but OB-GYNs watch the fetuses of infected mothers closely, conducting additional ultrasounds to monitor the development of the baby’s head.

“There’s not much you can do but watch,” Lederman said.

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