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The First Rapid Zika Virus Test Just Became a Reality

FEB 26, 2016 | CAITLYN FITZPATRICK
In a matter of weeks, two Texas medical institutions developed the first hospital-based rapid detection Zika test.

Zika is primarily spread through Aedes aegypti mosquitos, and since it’s a flavivirus, it contains the genetic material, RNA. Researchers from Texas Children’s Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital created a new diagnostic test that directly identifies the Zika virus-specific RNA sequences. Not only that, but results become available within a few hours.
“With travel-associated cases of the Zika virus becoming more prevalent in the United States, coupled with the looming increase in mosquito exposure during spring and summer months, we must be prepared for a surge of Zika testing demand,” James Versalovic, MD, PhD, from the Texas Children’s Hospital, said in a news release.

Zika testing is currently performed at local and state public health laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Therefore, the benefit of this new diagnostic test is that patients will no longer have to wait for appointments or test results because the test can be done in a hospital.

“Hospital-based testing that is state-of-the-art enables our physicians and patients to get very rapid diagnostic answers. If tests need to be repeated or if our treating doctors need to talk with our pathologists, we have the resources near patient care settings,” explained James Musser, MD, PhD, from the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital.

The test picks up on the Zika virus, specifically, and not the closely related Dengue, West Nile, or Chikungunya viruses. It was designed to identify RNA, which can be found in every viral particle, so it can detect the virus in the blood, spinal fluid, or urine of any adult or child. The test can detect Zika during pregnancy in the amniotic fluid, which is especially important since the virus is strongly believed to cause microcephaly – a condition where an infant is born with smaller-than-normal brain and head size. The CDC alerted that Zika is also been tied to multiple miscarriages and infant deaths.

“We must provide answers for anxious moms-to-be and families who may experience signs and symptoms or may simply have travel history to endemic areas,” continued Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief at the hospital.

The benefits here are pretty obvious, but for right now, the new Zika test is only available to registered patients at Texas Children’s or Houston Methodist hospitals. However, referral testing from other medical institutions will be considered in the future.
 
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