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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After several days of her son reporting that he was not feeling well, Tifani Roberts says one long-distance phone call set off an alarm.
“My son told me, ‘I have a rash.’ Immediately I said that is Zika,” recalled Roberts, who spoke her to 17-year-old son every day while he was on vacation with extended family in Nicaragua.
He was having a wonderful vacation until apparent symptoms of the Zika virus increasingly struck.
“One day he says, ‘I have a really bad headache.’ He says, ‘My legs hurt, and my eyes hurt when I look to the side,’” Roberts, an investigative journalist, recalled.
She says she jumped not just into mom mode but reporter mode and began looking into all reported symptoms. She says she was also aware of other cases that had been suspected in the area of Nicaragua where her son was staying. She kept a detailed track of his symptoms.
“When he tells me I don’t want to go out, for a 17-year-old, that’s when I know something is going on,” Roberts told CBS4 News Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen.
In preparation for his upcoming return to Miami, Roberts says she called the office of her son’s long time pediatrician to book his annual checkup and report her suspicions that he may have contracted the Zika virus.
She says she called and explained her concerns about the virus, even though by that time, the symptoms were vanishing. She says she was looking forward to getting him examined by his doctor. That’s when she says she was shocked at the response she got in speaking with office staff.
“She says, ‘You can’t bring him here.’ ‘Are you serious?’ I asked. I said ‘Why?’ I could hear a voice over her shoulder saying, ‘She needs to take him to the Health Department.’ And she repeats, ‘You have to take him to the Health Department,’” shared a frustrated Roberts.
Pressing for answers and direction, Roberts says the doctor’s office had no idea what number to call or to whom to call at the Health Department. She says she went online to Google it as she waited on hold.
Roberts said she tried the number she was given which just led her to a round robin of wrong numbers. Eventually she says she found a state epidemiologist who told her she needed to bring her son to his primary physician for an exam.
CBS4 news called the Florida Department of Health to discuss the same scenario and was given the same advice.
Staff told Gillen that if a parent suspects their child has the Zika virus, they should first be seen by their local doctor
“The irony of this Michele is that what does the Health Department say? [They say] you need to go to your doctor,” Roberts noted.
This is exactly what the Health Department told CBS4 News.
Ultimately, Gillen was told that they had reports of some doctors telling patients to go directly to the Department of Health to be tested. But the Department of Health says if you want them to test you for Zika you must have a referral from your doctor.
CBS4 News repeatedly requested an interview with the teen’s pediatrician. An office staffer told CBS4 that the teen was referred to the Department of Health because they thought the State of Florida should know that the teen might have Zika.
CBS4 News reached out to the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Their advice was clear and direct: if you suspect your child has been exposed to the Zika virus and is exhibiting symptoms or had exhibited symptoms, your first point of contact should be your family doctor. That doctor should do an examination and then decide if it is a case that should be referred to the Department of Health.