NY offers Zika tests to pregnant travelers

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Pregnant women in New York who have recently traveled to countries impacted by the Zika virus can now get free tests for the infection, the state announced Thursday.

Authorities had already announced free testing for anyone exhibiting signs of the virus. So far, 11 New Yorkers have tested positive for Zika.

All had traveled to Brazil and other places where mosquito bites have been linked to the infection and an increase in the number of children born with a congenital brain and skull condition. The virus has also been reported in Mexico, the Caribbean, tropical Asia and parts of southeast Africa.

At the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state's Department of Health issued an advisory to health care practitioners informing them of the new testing protocol and a requirement that they report all potential cases to local health departments.

"These actions will help us continue to ensure the safety of New Yorkers," Cuomo, a Democrat, said. "...Anyone who visited countries impacted by this virus should consult with their health care professionals, and remain alert for possible symptoms."

Symptoms are usually mild, can include a rash, fever, joint pain, or conjunctivitis and appear a few days after a bite by an infected mosquito.

Zika can't be spread by casual human contact, though health officials now say it could be sexually transmitted. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now cautioning women to abstain from sex or use condoms if their male sexual partner has visited the affected countries.

State health officials say they have received "numerous inquiries" from pregnant women and medical professionals about the disease.

The state has also set up a Zika information line — 888-364-4723 — to offer more information about the virus.