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Zika Virus Updates: Researchers Report New Better, Faster Test

mosquito-3-diseasesSince my last post on the Zika virus, Holiday Travel Warnings and A Conundrum in Columbia, researchers and scientists around the world continue to work aggressively to develop a vaccine for treatment as well as studying other impacts of the disease on humans, the unborn, and mosquito populations.

This week, scientist reported a better way to detect the Zika virus. While detection isn’t a cure, it is perhaps the next best thing for a disease that has proven difficult to control. The new test was developed by a collaborative team of researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center.

Called a microsphere immunofluorescence assay (MIA), the new test can detect Zika in a very small sample of blood in less than four hours, and also reduces the instances of a false positive test result. What sets this new test apart is its ability to distinguish Zika from other similar viruses, such as yellow fever, dengue fever, West Nile and Japanese encephalitis viruses. [Refs 1&2]

This is good news for the world’s population, especially for those countries that have already experienced an outbreak and/or have reported cases of Zika virus. Nikos Vasilakis, one of the researchers from the University of Texas at Galveston states: “We’re trying to do the best we can to give some answers to the clinicians relatively soon.”

Vasilakis also shares that the standard assay for Zika viral infection is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that probes for the presence of viral RNA in a sample. While it works well to detect the virus, the pathogen’s RNA is only around for a short period of time. “By the time [patients] make it into the clinic, the virus is likely gone or it’s at the tail end, beyond the limit of detection,” said Vasilakis. [Ref 3]

However, a quick diagnosis of the virus would help health authorities locate new Zika hot spots, and control mosquito populations before they have a chance to grow too large. It also helps to identify if a person has contracted the virus, thereby enabling the individual to seek medical treatment faster, and to take precautions against spreading the disease.

In addition to the above information, six weeks ago, (December 14, 2016) CDC issued guidance related to Zika for people living in or traveling to Brownsville, Cameron County, TX. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported its first case of local mosquito-borne Zika virus infection in Brownsville on November 28th. Additional cases of mosquito-borne Zika have been identified in the area since then. The CDC designated Brownsville as a Zika cautionary area (yellow area).

Sources Cited:

  1. We Now Have A Better, Faster Test For Zika Virus, by Dana Dovey for Medical Daily, January 24, 2017, MSNhttp://www.msn.com/en-ph/health/medical/we-now-have-a-better-faster-test-for-zika-virus/ar-AAm9v1n?li=BBr8YXP
  2. A Multiplex Microsphere Immunoassay for Zika Virus Diagnosis, in EBioMedicine, 2017, by Wong Sj, Furaya A, Zou J, et al.
  3. New Tests for Zika in the Works: To answer questions about the risks of Zika virus infection, researchers need better diagnostics, by Kerry Grens for The Scientist, January 25, 2016, http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45170/title/New-Tests-for-Zika-in-the-Works/

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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