Researchers are currently focusing their efforts on new ways to fight the Zika virus, from developing technology to detect Zika outbreaks
before they occur, to findings means to blocking viral transmission
. However, how do we identify those who have already been infected so that they are aware of their status? One of the major issues with the Zika virus is that 80% of individuals who are infected are asymptomatic, and so they unintentionally spread the virus. With this in mind, rapid and cheap diagnostic tools are needed, to inform both patients and practitioners.
To that end, scientists from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) have developed an accurate, rapid, and inexpensive Zika virus diagnostics tool that is as small as a tablet and can detect infection outside of a laboratory.
Current Zika diagnostics tools detect the virus through tests that identify viral antibodies in the bloodstream. Unfortunately, these tests do not always differentiate between Zika antibodies and antibodies of other flaviviruses, such as Dengue, and Chikungunya. According to Waseem Asghar, PhD, lead investigator, assistant professor at the FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science and Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, “Because flavivirus antibodies cross-react with one another current tests cannot distinguish between them.”
To accurately detect Zika, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is needed, which can cost around $20,000 (or more), and requires trained and skillful lab technicians to execute the procedures. It can also take hours to get results back from a PCR test.
Dr. Asghar said in an interview with Contagion
®, “It requires trained personnel and high-tech lab to perform the PCR assay which is not suitable for … settings such as airports, community health centers etc. Furthermore, PCR assay takes several hours to test a sample. The device that we are developing can overcome many of these challenges as it will be low-cost [$2], automated (does not require trained personnel) and rapid (test results within 15 minutes)."
The new tool that Dr. Asghar and his team developed can differentiate between Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya infections. The test requires only a saliva sample, which makes it convenient to use in remote locations that would not normally have access to expensive lab equipment and skilled technicians, such as airports or community health centers.