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Scientists have developed a quick, cheap way to test for Zika

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
Testing for Zika could be easy with new technology.
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Zika is now being actively transmitted in 49 countries around the world and expected to infect 4 million people by the end of 2016. So far, doctors have only been able to definitively detect the virus when they can send blood samples to a specialized lab for difficult genetic testing.

But now, researchers from a large collective of universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the University of Toronto have developed an easy way to detect Zika in about an hour. Their research was published today (May 9) in Cell.

“In response to an emerging outbreak, we envision a custom-tailored diagnostic system could be ready for use within one week’s time,” James Collins, a biomedical engineer at Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard and lead author of the paper, said in a press release.

Building upon research that had been done in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the team created a paper-based test that changes color when it detects Zika in a sample of blood, urine, or saliva. The test is able to replicate strains of genetic material found in a sample. If any of the genetic sequences are unique to Zika, the paper test will turn purple positive result.

In theory, this kind of testing is as easy to use as a home pregnancy test and costs less than a dollar per test. Researchers hope that because this test is so inexpensive and easy to use, it will be widely available in areas with fewer resources.

Although there’s no specific treatment for Zika, Keith Pardee, a pharmacists at the University of Toronto and co-author of the paper, said that he hope that this test will at least help contain the outbreak in countries where it is most prevalent until a vaccine can be developed.

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