BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The diagnosis for Niagara County’s first confirmed case of zika virus was finally determined early this week, and it put at ease the local woman who’s been suffering symptoms for months.
The North Tonawanda woman, who is not being named to protect her identity, went to Haiti on Jan. 1. She was there for just two weeks, and contracted the virus.
“I wore mosquito protection, I wore Deep Woods Off everyday, and I still got like 30 mosquito bites,” she said. “And so the day after I got home is when the symptoms started showing up.”
Symptoms like high fever, rash, achy joints and muscles and exhaustion, and diarrhea that lasted for so long, she finally went to her primary care doctor.
“I said I had been to Haiti,” she said. “So they started doing regular blood testing.”
That led to additional blood samples, and a visit to an infectious disease specialist. Then, more waiting; all the while, the symptoms persisted.
“The first time that I found out that I had zika was Tuesday,” she said. “So I didn’t hear until three months after I got back.
“It was frustrating, because I still had symptoms,” she added. “I still had a fever. The diarrhea and rash are gone, but I still have a fever.”
Following several rounds of tests, the answer she feels she’s known for weeks was confirmed.
“Kind of relief, that I know what it is,” she said. “It’s not an unknown anymore.”
Zika is still relatively new, especially in the United States. Health officials say there may not be a vaccine for it for another six months to a year — and that’s if medical studies are funded.
The other reason: Cost. The tests are performed at the state and county level, meaning they’re paid for by taxpayer dollars. Zika is not fatal. And unless the patient is pregnant, there’s no cause for concern.
“We’re not going to test everybody in Erie County that has a fever, a rash and conjunctivitis,” said Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein. “You have to have a certain travel history and risk factors.
“It wouldn’t be fair to taxpayers to offer the test to everybody,” she added. ” Right now, because there is no vaccine to prevent zika virus and there is no treatment for zika virus, we’re not testing so we can treat anybody. We’re testing for surveillance purposes.”
It also depends on how the body reacts. For example, if the body’s antibody count quadruples, that’s a strong indicator of zika virus. But there are other factors that require longterm testing, which involves watching the body react to illness.
“It takes a lot of work, a lot of time and surveillance and a lot of following up with the different tests and the DNA, a lot of things that we can’t do in our department because we don’t have a public lab like they do in Albany,” said Niagara County Health Director Daniel Stapleton.
Stapleton also said western New York is unique because of its proximity to international boundaries and the presence of an international airport.
“It requires us to be nimble, respond quickly and be prepared,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that we’re up to.”