By Dorah Feliciano, Contributing Reporter
BRASILIA, BRAZIL – A cheaper and faster test for detecting the Zika virus is being developed by Fiocruz (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation) in Pernambuco, Brazil. The researchers are hopeful that the new test will help save lives, especially outside big cities.
“Given that the current technique (PCR, or polymerase chain reaction) is extremely expensive and Brazil has few reference laboratories that can perform the Zika diagnosis, a small city in the countryside ends up being impaired by a lack of resources. The sample needs to be taken to the capital in order to be processed. The results can take fifteen days,” explains researcher Severino Jefferson Ribeiro.
In addition to costing forty times less, the new test provides results in twenty minutes. It is also more accurate, has a lower error rate, and detects disease in cases where the PCR method cannot, says Ribeiro.
Another advantage of the new test is that it can be done by any health professional since it doesn’t require complex training. A health agent needs simply to collect saliva and urine samples, mix with the supplied reagents in a small plastic tube, and then heat up the mixture in a water bath.
The PCR test used today is made with genetic material taken from samples, which makes it more complex.
The Fiocruz team expects the new technology to reach health clinics by the end of the year, benefiting small towns located away from large urban centers.
Zika is transmitted primarily by Aedes aegypti – the same that causes dengue and chikungunya. The disease can cause neurological complications such as microcephaly and the Guillain Barré Syndrome.
In Brazil, a surge in Zika cases was recorded at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 and is said to have been the main cause of microcephaly among babies born during that period.
Mothers bitten by the mosquito while pregnant infected their unborn children with the virus.
Since 2015, Brazil’s Ministry of Health has confirmed over 2,500 cases of children born with microcephaly. Most of the cases happened in the Northeast region of Brazil.
In May 2017, it declared the end of the national emergency state for microcephaly-linked-to-Zika.