While researchers across the world are scrambling to find some type of immunization, scientists from Florida Atlantic University are working to introduce a diagnostic tool to diminish the impact of the outbreak till a vaccine is identified.
“Most of the Zika cases in the United States and particularly in Florida are associated to travel,” says Waseem Asghar, a Ph.D. lead investigator and assistant lecturer at the Department of Computer and Electronic Engineering and Computer Science and in the Department of Biological Sciences in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.
“We are working to introduce a tool that can be employed without costly laboratory equipment and skilled technicians in numerous settings like an airport or a community health centre to offer reassurance to expectant families and those concerned as of recent travel. For around $2 and within 15 minutes, we expect to precisely determine whether or not an individual has an active infection.”
Presently, patients are diagnosed by testing whether they have antibodies against the Zika Virus in their bloodstream, but, the antibody test cannot discriminate precisely between the Zika virus and other flaviviruses like Dengue, West Nile Virus and Chikungunya. The more precise technique for identifying the virus is by looking for pieces of the viral genome in the blood sample of the patient using a method known as polymerase chain reaction. PCR is expensive, hefty and needs highly skilled laboratory personnel to operate. Moreover, results for PCR testing can take hours to yield results.
“Flaviviruses are present in mosquitoes and ticks that may infect individuals and cause a range of mild to fatal ailments,” says Asghar. “Since flavivirus antibodies cross-react with one another, present tests cannot distinguish between them.”
Such novel device is based on technology that Asghar and colleagues introduced to identify HIV. It uses cost-effective plastic or paper based substances, a cassette sized container holding up to 12 samples at a time and a receptacle about the size of a tablet. Such substances are easy to prepare, convenient to use, and can safely be disposed of by burning, offering an attractive strategy for developing an affordable tool for diagnosing the Zika virus in developing nations as well as middle and low income countries where is limited laboratory infrastructure.
The Zika virus, transferred to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, is especially dangerous for pregnant women, and is linked to numerous severe birth defects transferred to the fetus, comprising microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with a small head or the head stops growing after birth. Florida has the highest cases of the Zika virus at 1,069 reported cases with 214 cases acquired through presumed local mosquito borne transmission and the majority from travellers returning from affected areas.
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