Starting Monday, the waiting will no longer be the hardest part. Thanks in part to lab equipment installed during the fall 2014 Ebola scare, Dallas County will be able to test for the Zika virus at its facilities. Results will be available in as little as 24 hours, rather than the two or three weeks required when testing was being done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It's a game changer for Dallas County to be able to have that ability to do the testing right here," Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zack Thompson said at a press conference Friday. "It will also help in terms of those pregnant females who are needing results quickly. [Dallas County testing] provides the ability to know preliminary results pretty quick."
When contracted by adults, Zika is rarely serious. People with the virus usually don't show any symptoms, and when they do, they're usually mild. One might have aching joints, a headache or a body rash. For the future children of women who catch Zika, the results can be much more severe. Birth defects, including the shrinking of the head and brain known as microcephaly, have been linked to the disease in places like Brazil, which is going through a Zika outbreak. So far, three people in Dallas County have been diagnosed with the Zika virus. The first two cases, both tested at the CDC, were a person who caught the virus in Venezuela and another individual who got the virus through sexual transmission in Dallas. Sexual transmission is much rarer, according to the CDC, than catching Zika from an infected mosquito. The third case — who DCHHS now reports to be a 45-year-old woman who was not pregnant — caught the virus during a trip to Honduras. Her blood was tested as part of a trial run at the Dallas clinic. The biggest threat to Dallas from Zika will come if the region's Aedes mosquitoes — currently sitting dormant in the cool weather — wake up and bite someone carrying Zika. To prevent that from happening, DCHHS warns those with Zika to avoid mosquito bites for at least a week. Once mosquito season starts, traps will be set up around the houses of anyone found to have Zika.
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DCHHS warns that any woman who might be pregnant should avoid travel to countries with active Zika transmission. Anyone who must travel to affected areas is advised to sleep in a room with air conditioning, screening or mosquito netting. DCHHS also advises that "sexual partners can protect each other by abstaining from sex or by using condoms consistently and correctly during sex."