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North Dakota State Laboratory able to test for Zika

BISMARCK -- As Montana reports its first confirmed case of the Zika virus Friday, testing became available last week at the North Dakota Department of Health's Public Health Laboratory.

BISMARCK -- As Montana reports its first confirmed case of the Zika virus Friday, testing became available last week at the North Dakota Department of Health’s Public Health Laboratory.

So far, all test results have been returned as negative, according to Laura Cronquist, state epidemiologist.

The Zika virus is caused by a mosquito bite and is associated with microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to have smaller than normal heads and can cause incomplete brain development.

The lab performs a reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction testing for Zika virus, Cronquist said, which is similar to testing done for the West Nile virus.

The testing is only done for patients who have traveled to Zika-affected areas and have experienced virus symptoms within the past seven days, according to Cronquist.

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The window for testing is short because the virus is only present in a person’s blood for a limited amount of time, she said.

If a patient’s sample is taken after four days and yields a negative result, but the patient is still exhibiting symptoms, then the lab will still send it to CDC for further testing, she said.

Because no private facilities in the state are able to test for the virus, samples are sent to the health department for testing.

Cronquist said health care providers have already sent the state lab samples from North Dakota residents who traveled to areas with active Zika virus transmission. Some samples were collected during the first seven days of illness, from patients who experienced symptoms of the Zika virus.

The lab has received samples from about two dozens people so far, she said. All results have been negative.

The state lab has also sent samples from pregnant women not experiencing symptoms to the CDC for further testing.

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