Albany, NY - February 4, 2016 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today directed the New York State Department of Health to expand the free Zika virus testing program for all pregnant women who have traveled to areas where the infection is ongoing, regardless of whether they exhibit symptoms. Additionally, the Department of Health has issued a health advisory to local health departments, health care providers and hospitals to further coordinate Zika response efforts in New York State.
“These actions will help us continue to ensure the safety of New Yorkers,” said Governor Cuomo. “We are in constant communication with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are taking proactive steps to raise public awareness, address any potential cases of Zika, and protect the public health. Anyone who visited countries impacted by this virus should consult with their health care professionals, and remain alert for possible symptoms.”
These actions follow Monday’s announcement of free-testing for symptomatic individuals and an information line (1-888-364-4723) for the public and healthcare providers to learn more about the virus.
The Wadsworth Center in Albany is already testing symptomatic New Yorkers who have recently traveled to affected areas but due to concerns regarding birth defects associated with Zika virus, DOH will expand testing to all symptomatic and asymptomatic pregnant women with recent travel history. Additionally, the CDC is now recommending that pregnant women abstain from sex or utilize condoms for all sexual activities for the duration of their pregnancies if their male partner has traveled to or lives in an area with active Zika virus transmission.
DOH has issued a Health Advisory to coordinate the statewide response to Zika virus. The advisory informs healthcare providers of the expansion of the free Zika testing, and also notifies hospitals and healthcare providers that they are required to report all potential cases to their local health department to ensure a coordinated response to the virus. The advisory also provides instructions on how to handle testing of patients, and establishes a Zika information line for use by providers to interpret test results and gain updated information on the virus. Hospitals and providers must contact their local health department prior to sending samples to Wadsworth.
Furthermore, the advisory provides key information on the virus and state health department expertise to local healthcare partners. DOH will continue to coordinate with the CDC and provide real-time information to county health departments and local providers regarding treatment, testing, and prevention protocols to protect New Yorkers from this emerging public health threat.
There have now been 11 positive cases of Zika virus infection among New York State residents. All of the infected patients are returning travelers from countries where Zika virus is ongoing.
Free testing is being done by the Wadsworth Center - one of the premier state laboratories in the nation - and includes tests to detect the presence of the virus as well as screening and confirmatory tests for antibodies against Zika and other related viruses. DOH continues to work closely with the CDC to refine the lab testing algorithm for patients and Wadsworth is already testing blood and urine based on evidence that the virus may be detectable for longer periods of time in urine.
"As a result of this expanded testing being offered in New York, more women and their clinicians will have better information to make the right healthcare decisions at the cutting edge of laboratory science," said DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. "We are actively monitoring the situation and working very closely with the CDC and local health departments to protect New Yorkers from Zika virus."
Because the symptoms of Zika virus infection are usually very mild, many people might not even realize they have been infected and typically recover without any issues. However, there have been reports of increased cases of a birth defect known as microcephaly that may be associated with Zika virus infection among pregnant women. DOH has received numerous inquiries from asymptomatic, pregnant women and their healthcare providers and has determined that this expansion of testing will provide pregnant women and their doctors with the valuable information they need to make the best healthcare decisions. Expanded testing will also give scientists a better understanding of the Zika virus, for which little data currently exists.
Women who are pregnant and have traveled to a country where Zika is ongoing and their healthcare providers can learn how to access testing and gain additional information by calling the DOH information at: 1-888-364-4723. Additional information on Zika is available here on the DOH website.