Local physicians reported that state labs are beginning to improve turnaround times for delivering test results to pregnant women even as Florida officials on Thursday confirmed six more mosquito-borne Zika infections and five new travel-related cases — all of them in Miami-Dade County.
The additional mosquito-borne infections include one Miami-Dade resident exposed to the virus in Miami Beach and three more local people whose cases are under investigation to determine where transmission occurred, the Florida Department of Health reported.
The remaining local infections involved two out-of-state residents, including one who contracted Zika in Miami Beach, said Mara Gambineri, a health department spokeswoman. Health officials are working to determine where in Miami-Dade the second out-of-state resident was exposed to the virus.
A total of 932 people in Florida have contracted Zika this year, with 797 travel-related infections — including 92 pregnant women — and 134 local cases. State health officials added a new category —“undetermined” — to their daily Zika report this week to account for a case involving a Broward County resident who shares a home with someone who tested positive for Zika after visiting both Miami Beach and a country with widespread transmission of the virus.
Florida remains the only state where mosquitoes are spreading Zika, specifically in a 4.5-square-mile area of Miami Beach between Eighth Street and 63rd Street from the ocean to the bay. On Wednesday, Miami-Dade officials identified all locations in Miami Beach where traps captured Zika-positive mosquitoes in late August and early September.
As the number of Zika infections in Florida rises, the state health department has begun to reduce wait times for delivering test results, according to the chief pathologist for Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
David Andrews, medical director of pathology laboratories for Jackson Memorial, said just over 100 specimens delivered to the Bureau of Public Health Labs in August were still pending results from the state as of Wednesday — down from a backlog of 800 to 900 in early September.
Andrews told members of the Public Health Trust, which governs Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System, the improvement was largely due to an online portal that now allows the hospital’s pathologists to get results directly from the private vendor contracted by Florida to support state labs processing Zika tests, LabCorp.
But he said the health department remains challenged to deliver Zika tests in one week or less.
“They are struggling,” Andrews told Jackson trustees. “It’s very clear they’re overwhelmed.”
Most of the backlog, he added, is in the health department’s delivery of results after testing is completed.
“The irony here is that from last week moving forward, we’re getting results now in roughly a week or less,” he said on Thursday. “But we’re still catching up, going back to August, for results that are stuck in some kind of paperwork bottleneck.”
They are struggling. It’s very clear they’re overwhelmed.
David Andrews, Jackson Memorial Hospital pathologist
Ellen Schwartzbard, an obstetrician with South Miami Hospital, said her pregnant patients are still waiting about four weeks to receive their Zika test results from state labs. But she said Baptist Health South Florida hospitals will be linked to an online portal similar to Jackson’s for receiving test results.
“Hopefully, things will be changing soon,” Schwartzbard said Thursday. “But as of now, our testing results are still running about four weeks. I had a patient in my office today and her testing was done about four weeks and she has not received her results yet.”
To help meet the surge in demand, Florida awarded a $5 million contract to LabCorp on Aug. 5 to perform two types of Zika tests: an active virus diagnostic, and an antibody assay. Under the contract, Florida pays LabCorp $45 for each antibody test, and $250 for each active virus test.
Most pregnant women in Florida are receiving both tests at once, Andrews said.
To meet the surge in demand for Zika diagnostics, state health officials have said they are hiring more staff, purchasing more testing equipment and receiving more supplies from the federal government. Andrews said Jackson Memorial had been taking about 50 specimens of blood and urine, mostly from pregnant women, for Zika testing each month until Gov. Rick Scott mandated free testing for all pregnant women on Aug. 3.
During a visit to Miami Beach on Sept. 22 to announce that he had allocated $25 million in state funds for Zika vaccine research and improved diagnostics for the virus, Scott said the state was drawing on all resources to address the public health crisis.
Under Florida’s $5 million contract with LabCorp to perform Zika testing, the state is paying $250 for each active virus test and $45 for each antibody assay.
“We’ve ordered and we’ve bought more equipment,” Scott said at the time. “We have added more people. We’ve been asking since August for more help from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Last week they gave us some [lab support]. We need more.”
Asked why the state has yet to use all of the $35 million the CDC has allocated for Florida’s response to public health emergencies in general and Zika specifically, Scott replied that most of the money is part of the federal government’s annual support for the state.
“A very small amount of that is new money,” he said.
However, at least $8.4 million of the CDC funds are grants awarded to Florida since June, specifically for mosquito control, lab support and other Zika expenses. And all of the $27 million in public health emergency funding can be used for Zika, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.
As of Sept. 21, Florida had drawn about $1.6 million of the emergency response funds, though the state’s health department had budgeted — but not spent — about $9.6 million. Scott has allocated more than $61 million in state funds for Zika.
Zika cases reported in Florida as of Sept. 29
Number of Cases
Total cases not involving pregnant women
Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms
* Counties of pregnant women not disclosed
** Does not include local cases
Source: Florida Department of Health