Teams from two Houston, Texas hospitals created the first rapid detection test for detecting the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that has been linked to babies born with microcephaly, or smaller heads and brains than normal, and brain damage, according to U.S. News & World Report. Babies infected with Zika virus are also often born with severe vision impairment.
Brazil is the country which has, so far, been the most affected by mosquitoes transmitting the Zika virus, though since last spring, when it surfaced, it has spread to more than 32 territories and countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. Currently, in Brazil, the country where the first cases of people with the Zika virus came from, there have been over 4,100 confirmed or suspected cases of microcephaly.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), within the next year, by the end of 2016, there could be as many as 4 million cases of Zika virus in the Americas. The rapid spread of the Zika virus and the fact that the mosquito known to carry them, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, inhabits the southern states Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi in the United States, has made an accurate test to detect Zika virus in humans a priority of many scientists.
No cases of someone bitten by a mosquito in the U.S. getting Zika virus have yet been reported. However, there are 82 cases of people who have it in the U.S. who have traveled there from other countries.
The teams of researchers from the two Houston, Texas hospitals, the Houston Methodist Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital, that created the nucleic acid amplification test to detect Zika virus, can reportedly provide accurate results within just a few hours. The test, designed to detect the RNA genetic material of the virus, can be performed using any one of four bodily fluids, spinal fluids, urine, amniotic fluid or blood. It can distinguish between other viruses the mosquitoes that carry Zika virus are also known to sometimes carry, dengue, West Nile, and Chikungunya viruses.
Currently, the rapid detection test of the Zika virus that the researchers who created it call the nucleic acid amplification test is only available at the two Houston, Texas hospitals where it was developed. For now, only registered patients at those two hospitals can have the rapid Zika test performed on them. However, the teams of researchers said that in the near future, the two labs at the hospitals may conduct referral testing from other hospitals and clinics.
Dr. James Versalovic, the pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s and co-leader of the Texas Children’s Zika test development team, released a statement about the Zika virus. He said, “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.”
“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,” he said in a Texas Medical Center news release.
All pregnant women who have recently traveled to a country or territory where mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus are known to live are strongly advised to get themselves tested to check to see if they have it, according to Dr. James Musser, co-leader of the Houston Methodist test development team.
In a press release, Musser stated, “Hospital-based testing that is state-of-the-art enables our physicians and patients to get very rapid diagnostic answers.”
A cure has not yet been developed a cure or vaccine for Zika virus, according to FOX News Latino. Still, the rapid detection of Zika virus, which previously took upwards of a moth to detect, is a big step in the right direction.
The nucleic acid amplification test to rapidly detect Zika virus was the first one developed through the L.E. and Virginia Simmons Collaborative in Virus Detection and Surveillance. Backed, in large part, by oil service company investor and philanthropist L.E. Simmons, the organization provided funding to Houston Methodist and Texas Children’s hospitals in 2014 after the Ebola virus scare.
Musser, of Houston Methodist hospital, mentioned that they were the “first hospital to have the Ebola test ready to go a year and a half ago,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Versalovic said that the collaboration between researchers at Houston Methodist and Texas Children’s hospitals helped them “do this much more rapidly than if we were trying to do this ourselves.”
The research teams from the two Houston, Texas hospitals that have created the first rapid detection test for Zika virus have developed a much faster test for the mosquito-borne disease that has been linked to causing thousands of severe birth defects in Brazil and 32 other countries and territories than the old one, which could take up to a month to obtain results. With the advent of warmer weather in the U.S. in the spring and summer, outbreaks of Zika virus are expected to occur in some southern states. The newly-developed test for the Zika virus will greatly aid in the rapid detection of the disease.
By John Samuels
Photo Courtesy Google Earth