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Navy, San Diego County to Test for Zika

A screengrab from a U.S. Navy instructional video on preventing the Zika virus. (Screenshot from YouTube)
A screengrab from a U.S. Navy instructional video on preventing the Zika virus. (Screenshot from YouTube)

A Navy laboratory and the San Diego County Public Health Department have been cleared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test for the Zika virus, which can cause serious birth defects if women catch it during pregnancy.

The signature birth defect of the disease is microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.

The Naval Health Research Center, located at the Navy submarine base in Point Loma, is the only facility in the Navy and one of six laboratories in California authorized to use a new kind of test recommended for the early days of Zika infection, officials said.

The San Diego County Public Health Department laboratory in Point Loma is also among the six labs in the state newly approved to use the new test, a spokesman said.

The international health community has scrambled over the past few months to find ways to deal with a virus that first raised alarms in South America in 2015.

In the United States, more than 300 cases have been reported, all associated with travel aboard, according to the CDC.

The Point Loma naval facility will be available to test civilian specimens referred to it by the CDC, a spokeswoman said.

"Having the ability to test for Zika virus means that we can support expediting the diagnosis of this dangerous disease," said Dr. Christopher Myers, biosurveillance department head at the naval research center.

Lacking an approved test, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February and March issued emergency authorizations for up to 150 laboratories around the country to begin using two methods for diagnosis.

The Navy and county facilities will use the Real-time RT-PCR Assay (Trioplex rRT-PCR), which is the preferred method to test for the illness in the first week of infection.

The Trioplex rRT-PCR test also checks for the dengue and chikungunya viruses, allowing doctors to pinpoint which of the three similar infections is present using only one test.

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