US reports first Zika death as FDA approves emergency test for virus

© Jorge Cabrera
The US has reported its first death linked to Zika virus, while the Food and Drug Administration approved the first commercial test for the disease under an emergency use authorization.

A 70-year-old man living in Puerto Rico is the first confirmed death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The man suffered from internal bleeding, the result of a low platelet count that arose from his body’s reaction to Zika.

"This demonstrates that … there can be severe manifestations that result from Zika virus infection," the CDC's Tyler Sharp told NBC News.

Symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, but the disease has also been linked to microcephaly – a rare condition that causes infants to be born with small heads which damages the brain. Earlier this month, the CDC stated there is enough evidence to establish a connection between Zika in pregnant mothers and microcephaly in their newborns.

So far, 426 cases of Zika have been diagnosed within the 50 US states, according to CDC data. However, Puerto Rico is believed to be the most at risk, with hundreds of cases detected in the US territory alone.

According to NBC, 683 people in Puerto Rico have been diagnosed with Zika after the latest round of testing, including 65 pregnant women. That amounts to roughly 11 percent of the 6,000-strong sample size.

No cases in the US have been the result of a mosquito transmission, ABC News reported, though several have been spread through sexual transmission.

In an announcement on Thursday, Quest Diagnostics said the FDA approved their commercial Zika virus test, which is intended to expand access to testing in the United States and Puerto Rico, plus reduce the timeframe it currently takes to diagnose an infection.

"The availability of our new molecular Zika test provides physicians broad access to a diagnostic tool for managing the Zika outbreak," said Rick L. Pesano, M.D., Ph.D., vice president of research and development at Quest, in a statement. “This capability uniquely positions Quest to complement the response of public health laboratories for Zika outbreaks where access to FDA authorized diagnostic tests can potentially influence the quality of patient management."

According to Quest, the tests will start becoming available as early as May 2 to physicians in the US and Puerto Rico.

The FDA’s authorization of the test in this case means it can be used in an emergency, not that the test has received approval from the agency.

It also comes as officials continue to be concerned over the virus, which is generally transmitted via mosquitos. Until now, FDA-approved tests for Zika had to come from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and could only be used at specific CDC laboratories.

The new test will be able to detect Zika, but only if the virus is still present in the blood within the first seven days of infection. That means people who receive negative results may not necessarily be out of the woods, and further testing could be required if symptoms persist.

Cases of Zika have greatly increased throughout the Americas over the past year. The CDC has issued travel notices for multiple countries in the Caribbean, South America and Central America.