- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The commonwealth of Virginia will now be able to timely detect any potential Zika virus outbreaks.

Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services announced Monday that it is now able to test blood samples for the Zika virus after being appropriately designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previously, all blood samples suspected to be infected with Zika were sent to the CDC for testing, resulting in a massive backlog of samples from across the country, State Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine told local media. It took two to three weeks for to receive results.

Now it could only take days to determine if a Virginia resident has the virus.

“Increasing the capacity of the state public health laboratory is critically important to the work we are doing around emerging infectious diseases like Zika,” Levine said.

Zika is a virus spread through mosquitoes and sexual activity that causes a mild illness. If a pregnant woman is infected, the virus can cause birth defects, according to the CDC.

So far, there have been 11 reported cases of the Zika virus in Virginia. All cases have been associated with travel outside the U.S.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe created a statewide task force in February meant to increase Zika virus preparedness efforts prior to the start of mosquito season on May 1.

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