The Task Force Assists Puerto Rico with Zika Response

In support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Zika response plan, The Task Force’s Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII) is assisting the Department of Health in Puerto Rico in developing an electronic system for healthcare providers to learn the outcome of laboratory tests for Zika infection.

Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and potentially sex with someone who is infected. The disease has been linked to a severe birth defect called microcephaly. Symptoms of the disease resemble the common flu.

To confirm cases of suspected Zika infection, healthcare providers in Puerto Rico must send biological samples to special laboratories for testing. Results from these tests are normally sent by fax or mail to providers, which can delay diagnosis and treatment.

“Healthcare providers need to know as soon as possible whether their patients are infected in order to provide appropriate care and treatment, which may include counseling on pregnancy termination or safe sex practices,” said Vivian Singletary, MBA, director of PHII. “Delays in diagnosing patients can also slow the  public health response to Zika.”

While Puerto Rico works to develop a permanent electronic lab reporting system, PHII is helping to develop an interim system that will link laboratory databases with those of healthcare providers. This will help ensure providers learn test results as soon as they become available at special testing labs.

Puerto Rico has been among the areas hardest hit by the recent Zika outbreak. The territory has reported more than 26,800 cases of Zika thus far, and CDC predicts that more than 7,000 pregnant women could be infected by the end of the year.

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