Florida gov offers free Zika test kits for pregnant women

Florida Gov Rick Scott ordered free Zika testing statewide to help pregnant women.

Fort Lauderdale: Florida Gov Rick Scott ordered free Zika testing statewide to help pregnant women.

Scott directed state health officials yesterday to make the tests available at county health departments and also said the state would provide additional lab services to handle the expected increase to ensure test results are processed quickly.

Health officials last Friday announced that mosquitoes have apparently started spreading Zika on the US mainland, with a total now of 15 cases they strongly believe were caused by bites.

In an unprecedented warning, federal health officials directed pregnant women to avoid a Zika-stricken part of Miami. The Zika virus can cause severe brain-related defects, including disastrously small heads, called microcephaly. Even if the brain appears to be developing normally, studies also have linked Zika to stillbirths, poor fetal growth and other problems.

Scott promised in a statement yesterday to "aggressively fight against the Zika virus."

Yesterday's announcement comes as some doctors have complained they were being forced to ration test kits and turn away pregnant women who were requesting them.

"The biggest challenge I'm having is many, many, many patients who are pregnant want to be tested ... Right now it just feels like we are restricting access to the tests.

Certainly patients have felt frustrated," Dr. Christine Curry, an ob-gyn at University of Miami Health System, said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

The free tests announced by the governor are only available at county health departments and do not apply to physicians in private practice.

The governor said more than 2,400 have been tested statewide and more than 140 people have been tested in the past three days in the impacted area of Wynwood, an area known for art galleries and hip shops and restaurants. He also announced increased spraying in the area and other mosquito abatement.

However, federal health officials have said the mosquitoes have been harder to eradicate than they anticipated, leading them to suspect that the pests are resistant to the insecticides or are still finding standing water in which to breed.

Athenahealth, which specializes in electronic health records, says it's proactively reaching out to patients and has partnered with a local community health center to call and email patients who may be at risk and encourage them to get tested.

The company says its records have identified more than 1,800 patients being treated by 94 providers at 24 different clients within the affected area who are potentially at risk.