According to the Dallas County Health and Human Services website, Zika is a disease caused by Zika virus. That Zika is not preceded by the definite article “the” is cause enough for hysteria. As for transmission, it is “spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.” While less probable, sexual transmission from a mosquito-infected person is possible. Such a case was, for the first time, documented in Texas.
This is where I come in. My wife is pregnant. I went to Mexico during her pregnancy for a friend’s wedding and was bitten by three mosquitoes. Upon my return to Dallas, she patiently explained to me that my wanton encounters with Mexican mosquitoes meant we could not have unprotected sex until we were certain I did not have Zika. Sexual intercourse between consenting adults is fun and healthy, an observation I make based solely on my own experiences. So in order to make love to my sexy pregnant wife without fear of inflicting microcephaly on our unborn child, we decided that I needed to get tested.
I dragged my feet. I waited a long time to make an appointment at the doctor mostly because I was afraid to ask for a test that I didn’t feel I really needed. There had to be scores of people living in North Texas who had been bitten by more than three mosquitoes, domestic or foreign. But like any husband who supports his pregnant wife, I was willing to make courageous leaps to please. So almost seven weeks after I was bitten by three mosquitoes, I called the doctor’s office, explained my circumstances, and was granted an appointment.
A nurse assigned to take my vitals inquired about the reason for my visit. “Zika,” I told her, employing neither article nor verb because that’s how scary it is. “What’s that?” she asked. How the hell could a medical professional not know what Zika is? Did she not have access to Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or even Musical.ly? Social media have been streaming reports of impending danger, travel cancellations, and infants being born with shrunken heads. Dallas County had confirmed only six cases, true, but there was reason to believe that not only can Aedes aegypti carry the virus, but so can Aedes albopictus, a mosquito far more common in North Texas. And that mosquito’s nickname? It is the Asian tiger mosquito. How could a nurse not know about an article-less, head-shrinking virus carried by a bug named after a tiger? But she was charming, so I gave her a pass and waited for the doctor.
He came in with several sheets of paper and greeted me kindly. He read from the papers that, in order to get me tested, we would first have to submit a form to Dallas County Health and Human Services. One of those sheets of paper was not the form I needed. He told me to come back tomorrow.
The next day I returned to the doctor’s office. He had the form. In an exam room, he asked me about my symptoms. Here a problem arose. I never really had any symptoms. After being bitten by the three Mexican mosquitoes, I did feel a little under the weather, but that was after the two-week window during which a Zika-infected host is supposed to feel the effects of the virus, and I attributed it to allergies. But could I trust my memory about what did or didn’t happen during that two-week window after my encounter with the Mexican mosquitoes? I wasn’t about to return home without that test. On this my wife and I certainly agreed.
To have his blood submitted for testing, a patient must meet one of the five criteria listed on the Zika Virus Specimen Submission and PCR Test Result Form. I decided to go with No. 1 on the list of criteria. Did I have symptoms of joint ache and fever within two weeks of traveling to a Zika-infected zone? It wasn’t hard for me to think that I had. My blood was drawn.
An epidemiologist from Dallas County Health and Human Services called the very next day to follow up. He was friendly and encouraging. He was also proud that Dallas is one of the only places in the country that conducts its own testing. This meant that my results would be returned in eight to 10 days instead of the more typical eight weeks that many people have to wait. I, too, was proud.
Twelve days later, I had yet to get the results of my Zika test. After several phone calls to Dallas County Health and Human Services, I finally spoke to the epidemiologist who first contacted me. It seemed that the company responsible for delivery of my blood sample had sent it on to somewhere else and now it was in the hands of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. This meant I had to wait the full eight weeks. That wouldn’t do. Obviously.
On the recommendation of the epidemiologist, I decided to submit another blood sample and try again. He told me it was even possible to turn around results the same day if I went to the outpatient clinic at Baylor Medical Center, downtown. So I went to Baylor, and after some grilling about why, exactly, I was there, the staff located the proper form that had been forwarded to them by my doctor, and they executed a blood draw with effortless efficiency. I followed up with the epidemiologist. This was on a Thursday before a holiday weekend. He said I might have to wait until Tuesday.
When my phone rang that Tuesday evening and I saw my doctor’s name pop up on the screen, my heart and loins both fluttered. The chances that I had Zika were slim, to be sure. Some might even say nonexistent. But there was no question that I had spent four nights in Mexico at my best friend’s wedding while my wife stayed behind in Dallas, pregnant. There were the three mosquitoes. Who could say for certain whether I was clean and blameless or filled with a filthy virus? Well, my doctor could. That’s who.
He told me my immunoglobulin response came back negative. That was no surprise: an immunoglobulin response would happen immediately after contraction of a disease. But the doctor went on to tell me that I did not have Zika. I should go find my wife and have celebratory sex. The latter instruction he didn’t actually give me, but it’s what I chose to hear and then tell my wife. Score one for the kid.