Testing for Zika virus begins at Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center

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Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee warned that Houstonians are in the "epicenter" of a potential Zika outbreak. (KTRK)

Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center has begun testing blood donations for the Zika virus as part of an Investigational New Drug Application protocol approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Blood Center began using the cobas Zika test, which is manufactured by Roche Molecular Systems, on May 23. It is one of only a few blood centers in the United States participating in the trial.

"The Blood Center values our community and the safety of our blood supply," said The Blood Center's Chief Medical Office Dr. Susan Rossmann, "so we have taken this proactive step to test for the Zika virus. We are glad to be one of the first blood centers in the United States to use this investigational test."

The Blood Center has installed three cobas 6800 instruments that will conduct the fully automated testing. The instruments will test all samples individually and are able to detect extremely small quantities of the Zika virus.

With its three instruments, The Blood Center is able to test more than 3,600 samples a day.

Due to the test being in a trial stage, all donors must sign a consent form in order for the test to be performed on their blood.

Roche is the world's largest biotech company and a global pioneer in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics.

"As a leader in diagnostics, Roche is committed to providing testing solutions for the world's most challenging healthcare emergencies," said Uwe Oberlaender, Head of Roche Molecular Systems. "With the collaboration of the FDA on this IND, we are able to further expand our commitment to help keep the blood supply safe."

On the continental United States, there have been no cases of Zika transmission from mosquitos. All known Zika cases on the mainland have been from people who have traveled to countries affected by the virus or females who have had sexual contact with someone that has been in those areas within the past 28 days.

The Blood Center will continue to help safeguard the blood supply and protect the patients it serves by deferring donors who could potentially carry the Zika virus as part of the required screening process.

With current deferral rules, it is important for eligible donors to Commit for Life and donate blood. The Blood Center is the primary supplier of blood components to more than 170 hospitals and health care facilities in a 26-county Texas Gulf Coast region, and needs 1,000 donations a day to meet the needs of those patients.

Presenting donors who have traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America within the past 28 days are deferred. All female donors that have had sexual contact with a man who has had a Zika virus infection or has traveled to one of the infected areas in the previous three months, are also deferred until at least four weeks after their last sexual contact within that three-month window.

The Blood Center continues to work closely with local public health officials to stay proactive regarding the Zika virus.

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Medical expert Dr. Richard Besser explains Zika virus

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The Zika virus is spreading rapidly, causing concern at the World Health Organization.

Zika symptoms diagnosis and treatment from the CDC


  • About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill (i.e., develop Zika).

  • The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.

  • The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.

  • Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can be found longer in some people.

  • Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

  • Deaths are rare.


  • The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya, diseases spread through the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika.

  • See your healthcare provider if you develop the symptoms described above and have visited an area where Zika is found.

  • If you have recently traveled, tell your healthcare provider when and where you traveled.

  • Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses like dengue or chikungunya.


  • No vaccine or medications are available to prevent or treat Zika infections.

Treat the symptoms:

    Get plenty of rest
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration

  • Take medicines, such as acetaminophen or paracetamol, to relieve fever and pain

  • Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. Aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of hemorrhage (bleeding). If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.

  • If you have Zika, avoid mosquito bites for the first week of your illness.

  • During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites.
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