Zika virus is all over the newspapers and social media just now, in a manner of speaking. The general public are aware of it. All the general clinicians are aware of it. Even the clinical microbiologists and infectious diseases physicians are aware of it!
As a consequence we are getting a relatively large number of test requests for Zika virus into the laboratory. (NZ has no endemic Zika but gets a good number of returning travellers from the Pacific Islands) Some requests are appropriate, particularly those ones related to pregnancy. Others I have no doubt would never have been requested if there hadn’t been so much about Zika in the news…
Some of the testing is driven by patients demanding testing from their primary care physicians, other testing is initiated by the clinicians themselves. Meanwhile the laboratory plays catch up and tries to introduce some rational testing guidelines/algorithms to ensure that the testing is ‘reasonable’, and testing volumes remain under control. A reasonable proportion of my working day over the past couple of weeks has been ‘dedicated’ to Zika.
One also worries that amidst all the hype about Zika, with the brain focused on the one pathogen, one might forget about the other arboviruses causing similar clinical presentations in endemic areas.
In a few weeks/months time, Zika virus will likely have disappeared from the headlines, to be replaced by another pathogen of interest to the media. That is the way the media works. Zika testing will return to ‘normal’ levels. Zika will still be there, for consideration in the differential, but it will no longer be at the forefront of people’s minds.
We like to think that our testing habits and our daily workload are not influenced by the media, that testing is always based purely on the clinical presentation, and that guidelines and protocols are always written due to clinical need.
But in the real world, to a certain extent, we are subservient to what happens in the media, whether we like it or not.