Authorities Question Accuracy of Zika Virus Testing

One of the biggest news stories during the summer of 2016 was the outbreak of the Zika virus. The alarming spread of the virus was followed closely by international travelers and residents of the United States. In Brazil, Olympic athletes refused to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games due to concerns about contracting the virus.  The virus could spread quickly and was linked to many incidents of birth defects. The World Health Organization declared Zika a Public Health Emergency.[1]

In response to the Zika epidemic, health officials rushed to find a test for Zika. However, it turns out that test was botched.

What is the Zika Virus?

Zika typically presents mild symptoms and can last several days to a week.[2]  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the Zika virus produces flu-like symptoms, such as fever, rash, joint pain, and pink eye.[3]  Other symptoms of infection include muscle pain and headache.[4]  Many people who do experience symptoms from Zika may not know they are infected because symptoms are similar to so many other viruses.

However, some infected people never exhibit any symptoms, so the health risks of the virus aren’t just to the patient, but to an unborn child.[5]

What’s the big deal about Zika?

Officials across the world took notice of the Zika virus after it was connected to birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected with Zika.  The most notable birth defect is microcephaly, a condition where children are born with small heads and underdeveloped brains.[6]  Zika has also been connected to other birth defects in the central nervous system.[7] These conditions often leave the child developmentally disabled and needing lifetime care.

Zika has also been thought to trigger Guillain-Barré Syndrome and other neurological disorders.[8]  These are chronic conditions for which there is no cure.[9]

How is Zika transmitted?

Zika is primarily transmitted through mosquitos, similar to other viruses such as West Nile Virus, Dengue, and Chikungunya.,

[10][11]

Studies also show that Zika can be transmitted through unprotected sex.

The best way to protect yourself from getting Zika is to avoid mosquito bites and have protected sex.  Governments across the world urged their citizens to get tested for Zika, so they could know if it was safe for them to get pregnant or not.

Who should be tested for Zika?

The Zika virus is linked to birth defects, so women who were pregnant or planning to become pregnant were urged to stay away from areas where Zika was prominent, mostly warm-weather places from South America to as far north as Florida.

When it was learned that Zika could be transmitted sexually, it was important for women and their partners to be tested for Zika to be sure that if they got pregnant, their babies were not at risk.  Studies suggest that Zika may cause birth defects even 6 months after the mother was infected.[12]

A recent report suggests that the test for Zika was flawed.[13]  The CDC and other agencies were in a rush to develop a new test, and the resulting test appears to be inferior. According to a health official in Washington, D.C., there was human error in establishing the protocol, so the protocol that was developed and then passed around to other agencies was wrong.[14]  It also seems that the government knew the test was inaccurate up to 40% of the time but continued to use anyway.[15]

What happens now?

A new, more accurate test for Zika has since been developed. Health organizations across the country are now re-testing blood for the Zika virus and have determined that some women who were pregnant or planned on becoming pregnant were told they did not have Zika when they did.

What does this mean for me?

If you had your blood tested for Zika and were told you didn’t have Zika, but later had a child who has a birth defect that’s been linked to Zika, there may be help for you or your child.  To discuss your situation and your options, call Allen & Allen at 1-866-388-1307.


[1] http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/mediacentre/press-releases/en/

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/symptoms.html/

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/symptoms.html/

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/symptoms.html/

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/09/27/cdc-whistleblower-claims-agency-has-been-using-wrong-zika-test/

[6] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/microcephaly/en/

[7] World Health Organization, Situation Report – Zika Virus, Microcephaly, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, 2 Feb. 2017 (http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/254507/1/zikasitrep2Feb17-eng.pdf?ua=1)./

[8] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/

[9] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/guillain-barre-syndrome/en/

[10] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/

[11] http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/vector_ecology/mosquito-borne-diseases/en/

[12] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/

[13] http://wtop.com/dc/2017/02/dc-health-official-explains-false-results-on-zika-tests/

[14] http://wtop.com/dc/2017/02/dc-health-official-explains-false-results-on-zika-tests/

[15] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/09/27/cdc-whistleblower-claims-agency-has-been-using-wrong-zika-test/?utm_term=.2278d200e7b3/