Zika Virus and the Laboratory

The Emergency Operations Center of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has moved to Level 1 activation, its highest level of response for critical emergencies. AACC has gathered the most up-to-date, essential information and guidance for laboratories, with useful links and references. This page will be refreshed as new material becomes available.

The Latest News

New data from the CDC explains why doctors should be testing patients’ urine samples every time. In Florida, where 95 cases have been confirmed, urine tests provided greater detection of the Zika virus than blood samples. Zika remains in the bloodstream for only about a week, while urine testing may detect the virus in a patient between 1 and 20 days of contracting the illness. Read the full story in The Washington Post. 

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of an experimental test to screen blood donations for contamination with the Zika virus. The move means that Puerto Rico, which had halted local blood donations and had imported nearly 6,000 units of red blood from the continental U.S., will soon be able to resume collecting donations from residents. And it should help blood banks elsewhere in the country avoid similar ordeals. Read the full story in the New York Times.

Texas Children’s Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital have developed a rapid test for the Zika virus—a milestone in responding to the outbreak. Using blood, amniotic fluid, urine, or spinal fluid, the test can detect genetic material from the Zika virus and provide results in just a few hours. Significantly, the test can also distinguish Zika virus infections from other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue, chikungunya, or West Nile. Read the full story in USA Today.

What biosafety precautions should a lab take when working with Zika virus?

Labs should take BSL2 precautions for Zika virus.

How is Zika virus diagnosed?

There are no commercially available diagnostic assays or kits for Zika virus infection. Laboratory testing for Zika and other arboviruses (ARthropod-BOrne virus) is available at the CDC and several state health departments.

Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), IgM ELISA, and plaque reduction neutralization tests (PRNT) are performed at CDC. The specific tests performed will depend on the timing of the specimen collection relative to illness onset and clinical information. CDC guidance is available for determining the appropriate testing algorithm and interpreting test results.

The date of illness onset, dates of specimen collection, specimen type, description of clinical illness, travel history, flavivirus vaccination history, and contact information for the submitter should be included with all specimens.

Should cases of Zika virus be reported?

Zika virus is a nationally notifiable condition. Laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika virus should be reported through ArboNet, the national surveillance system for arboviral disease.

Is Zika virus available for assay development and/or validation?

CDC does have stocks of a Zika virus isolated from serum from the current outbreak available for distribution. Laboratories requesting virus must sign an agreement for use, which includes providing information regarding laboratory facilities. Contact the CDC IMS Zika Laboratory Virus Team (eocevent278@cdc.gov) for further information.

Laboratory-related Links