DOH Aides in Pacific Zika Virus Testing – Big Island Now


laboratoryThe Hawai’i Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division is taking a role in national efforts to combat the spread of the zika virus.

DOH officials say the laboratories have provided testing for samples of potential zika cases in American Samoa and the Marshall Islands. The verification testing is being conducted to provide support for the United States Affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions.

“Hawai’i is fortunate to have an experienced and capable public health laboratory that can serve our state with timely and quality testing under emergency conditions,” said Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler. “That same capability is not available in many other areas of the Pacific, and providing lab support to these areas, when we can, is critical to controlling the spread of diseases and reducing the risk of introduction to Hawai’i.”

Dr. Thane Hancock, the team leader for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention American Samoa Zika Response, says that with the virus emerging in U.S. island territories such as American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Island, the entire country is on alert.

“The timely response by the Hawai’i Department of Health’s State Laboratories staff provided critical support for local disease investigations and for monitoring potentially exposed pregnant women,” said Dr. Hancock.

DOH began to use the CDC’s developed real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction test for the zika virus. The testing has provided officials in American Samoa and the Republic of the Marshall Islands with the first laboratory evidence of zika transmission in the pair of jurisdictions.

“It’s always a balance to ensure our state needs are met first, but the staff here is more than willing to step up to support national efforts,” said State Laboratories Director Dr. Christian Whelen. “This work helps to better prepare us for potential issues that could arise in our state, and identifying and controlling outbreaks in the Pacific benefits all of us.”

PCR is the best test used for early onset of symptoms. After about a week of illness, testing for antibody to the viruses is the ideal route. CDC is shipping antibody test materials to the state so the DOH Laboratories Division can be prepared to test antibodies.

“The testing is very similar to the methodology our labs use for other RNA viruses such as Chikungunya, dengue, influenza, and measles,” added Whelen. “Our laboratory staff have been thoroughly trained to safely work with high risk specimens.”

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