Using Low-Cost Diagnostics to Fight Zika

The newest health concern circulating the globe is the Zika Virus. In the past couple of years, there has been an outbreak of this dangerous virus. It is spread through bites by infected mosquitoes and, while rarely being life-threatening to those bitten, can cause brain defects, such as Microcephaly, in fetuses. The worrisome component of this virus is the fact that its symptoms are not specific to Zika, therefore pregnant women have no way of knowing whether or not they have the virus. Fortunately, researchers at Harvard University have been working to change that.

The aforementioned researchers have been able to invent a low-cost paper diagnostic test that can detect the presence of the Zika Virus. They hope it will slow the spread of the notorious virus, as well as pave the way for low-cost diagnostics for different virus outbreaks in the future. The tests have been engineered to work in three steps. Firstly, they detect the presence of Zika. Then, they search for the specific strain. Finally, they search for genetic markers related to Zika. This results in a strip of paper that changes color depending on if a drop of blood shows signs of the Zika Virus or not, all within 30 minutes.

The project began in an attempt to create a low-cost diagnostic test for Ebola. When Zika became a worldwide concern, it only made sense to research the genetic indicators of it as well. Currently, testing for such RNA viruses requires an anti-body method, which costs thousands of dollars and takes months to generate. Since researchers took the time to find genetic indicators of said viruses, the costs can be reduced a great deal.

These paper diagnostic tools are also useful in that they can identify the region from which the infected genome originated. This basically means that the diagnostic can communicate from where it came, which would allow researchers to predict where an outbreak will next occur.

The implications of this newly developed health technology are enormous. The Zika Virus is just one RNA virus that could be detected by diagnostics similar to the Zika one. The researchers are confident that they will be able to develop, test, validate, and release new diagnostic tests in under a week’s time. Such an ability has the potential to greatly reduce diagnostic tests all over the world.

The Zika Virus is just one outbreak we have experienced in the past decade. Low-cost diagnostic tests make treatment and prevention of future outbreaks that much easier.