Here's What to Do if You Think You Have Zika

Zika panic is real, and it's got Miami in its insect-like pincers. Your boss smells like deet. Your friends have canceled their trips to visit you. And any pregnant people you know are, understandably, very worried.

All of this concern has sadly led to some folks spreading serious misinformation about how to get tested for the virus, who ought to get tested, and in what manner the whole process goes down. County health officials haven't helped much. Last week, former New Times music editor Liz Tracy, who lives in Miami and is pregnant, chronicled the agonizingly difficult road she had to take to get herself tested for Zika.

To help alleviate confusion, New Times asked University of Miami clinician Dr. Paola Lichtenberger, as well as Florida Department of Health spokesperson Sarah Revell, to break down how the Zika-testing process works.

1. Figure out if you have actual symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has.

And, no, this doesn't mean "My grandmother says I look extra-tired lately, and I just got a drink at Gramps, so I need to call the Health Department and quarantine my house now." Be real with yourself.

Litchenberger describes the "ideal candidate" for testing as someone who's been to a Zika-affected zone (this now includes Wynwood) and who exhibits at least two of the classic Zika symptoms. For those who have no idea what those are, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the four "tell-tale" signs of Zika as follows:
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes), which looks like this:
  • Rash, which looks like this:
Additionally, body aches and vomiting can be common.

Likewise, if you've been in close contact with someone diagnosed with the virus — especially sexual contact — move immediately to Step 2.

2. Call the Florida Department of Health

It's then up to the Florida Department of Health to decide if you qualify for a Zika test, Lichtenberger says. The Miami-Dade County Department of Health's number is 305-324-2400, and the state department's main number is 850-245-4444.

Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott announced that all tests for pregnant women are free, but if you qualify for one of the Florida Department of Health's tests, a department spokesperson tells New Times the test is free even if you aren't pregnant.

(If you don't qualify but still want a test, you'll likely have to pay for a private lab test. More on that later.)

3. Go to a doctor and get samples taken.

If the Health Department says you qualify for a Zika test, you'll be given loads more information from there on out. But the gist is this: The state says it has sent Zika-testing information to every health-care provider in Florida, so if a doctor's office tells you it can't help you get tested, it's possible they haven't checked their mail this week. If you don't have a primary-care physician, you can go to the emergency room, an urgent care center, a county health department, or a private lab.

"Every single clinician in Florida is obligated, even in emergency rooms, to ask patients, especially pregnant patients, if they've been in Zika-affected areas," Lichtenberger says.

Basically, doctors will take a blood and urine samples and send them off to either the Department of Health's main lab or an independent lab that's been contracted out. (Some doctors can test samples onsite if they have the necessary equipment and training.) In rare instances, the CDC itself can analyze cases, Lichtenberger says.

There are two types of blood tests the CDC recommends. If doctors assume you came in contact with the virus less than 14 days before testing, they're instructed to use a polymerase chain-reaction (PCR) test, which analyses your urine or blood (or, in rarer cases, spinal or amniotic fluid).

If it's been two to 12 weeks since you ventured into a Zika-affected area, the CDC then tells doctors to use a Zika IgM Antibody Capture Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (Zika MAC-ELISA) blood test instead. (Doctors can also use cerebrospinal fluid for that test.)

Though neither test has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration yet, the FDA has given health-care providers emergency authorization to use either test in Zika cases.

5. Wait.

That's basically it. Lichtenberger says tests should come back within 48 hours, but with the glut of tests flooding into Florida labs this week, you can expect some delays. (University of Miami ob-gyn Christine Curry told the Miami Herald that tests have been coming back in one to three weeks.)

If an initial PCR test comes back negative, doctors may still ask you to then take a MAC-ELISA test, or vice versa.

Unfortunately, in the rare case that you have the virus, there isn't really much more you can do except wait it out, but the symptoms are thankfully mild in most cases.

6. If you want to get a test done privately, you can, but it might cost you.

Here's the rub: If you want a test but the Health Department says you don't qualify for one, you'll have to go out-of-pocket or through your insurance for the procedure. Though the Health Department's Revell tells New Times a private test "may be covered by an individual's insurance," one woman told the Herald earlier this week that she was quoted prices ranging from $150 to $500.

Lichtenberger says there are at least three private labs testing for the virus: Quest Diagnostics (which has at least ten locations in Miami-Dade County), LabCorp (ten locations in Miami-Dade), and ViraCor-IBT Laboratories, which offers PCR tests with same-day results.

If you're thinking of getting tested, call your insurance provider before making any moves.

In the meantime, get some high-quality bug spray, stay indoors, and drain any standing water you see.

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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.