Elizabeth Cain was feeling better Thursday and reflecting upon her trip to Ecuador last week.
“You can see the water was perfect,” she said as she scrolled through photos of the ocean at the equatorial country.
But her trip combined the beach with the jungle. She stayed in what she described as a tree house. And there were uninvited guests.
“I was bitten by multiple mosquitos all over my legs,” Cain said, even though she says she wore insect repellent with DEET.
The photos show Elizabeth visiting a school where she gave crayons and coloring books to children and a rustic market with locally made products. But she brought home more than souvenirs.
“I developed a fever and a rash,” she said of her last day on the trip. Because Ecuador is one of the countries on the CDC’s list, Elizabeth suspected Zika virus.
“My rash looked like that,” Elizabeth said, pointing to a photo of skin filled with red splotches. “It started on my face and was all over my body.”
Alarmed, Elizabeth says she called a hospital ER and an Urgent Care asking to be tested for Zika. Both told her she needed a referral from a primary care physician to get the test.
She called the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which kicked her to the Dauphin County Department of Health, which is protocol. She left a message and a return message was left on her voice mail. She played it for us.
The woman identified herself as a nurse and said, “Unfortunately, the referral has to come to us through your provider.”
Elizabeth next called her OB-GYN asking to be tested.
“She said she couldn’t give me a referral because I wasn’t actively pregnant. She did tell me not to conceive for at least six months.”
Zika virus has been linked to birth defects in children and is especially risky for pregnant women.
The problem is Elizabeth, like many 20-something millennials, doesn’t have a primary care doctor. She called around to get one but was told that’ll take weeks, meaning that Zika test could take a month or more when the virus would likely be gone from her body. She said she’s trying to do the responsible thing. She worries a mosquito could bite her and then bite a pregnant woman and spread Zika.
She also questions a Health Department that doesn’t seem overly concerned or overly helpful.
“I think they need to work on follow-through,” Cain said. “They did a great job with public awareness. They need to work on management of it and making it easier, making it more accessible.”
In response, the Department of Health gave this statement to ABC27:
Education is a key part of public health and disease prevention. The Department serves as a resource for Pennsylvanians on health issues. The relationship between a doctor and patient is the best way to prevent and protect from disease. A physician knows your personal history and can determine the best care for you. That’s why one of the key recommendations from the Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to consult your physician if you think you have signs and symptoms of any disease. There are resources in the community and through the state for people who are under or un-insured. It’s important to remember that the Department of Health is limited in the direct medical services it can provide, which is why we encourage Pennsylvanians to have a relationship with a physician.”
Again, Elizabeth is not a confirmed Zika patient because she’s not been tested and she wonders about CDC statistics. She suspects their numbers are vastly under-reported because of people like her who can’t even get the test.