Researchers at San Antonio's Texas Biomedical Research Institute are making progress on an early detection test for the Zika virus, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"As in any viral infection, not just Zika infestions, the doctor needs to know accurately whether this is the virus you have," lead researcher Dr. Jean Patterson told News Radio 1200 WOAI.
Zika Virus first made an appearance in Texas in 2014, and since then it has become a serious health threat, largely due to the threat of birth defects or stillbirths among the fetuses of pregnant women who come down with the virus.
Dr. Patterson says the test would tell physicians which strain of the Zika virus the patient has been infected with, whether the patient has previously been infected and has immunity, and how far along the patient is in the progress of the disease.
"For a clinician to know whether an anti-viral would be effective or other treatments, he needs to know how far along you are in the progression of the virus, then he will be able to make a judgement call on what would be the best course of treatment," Patterson said.
For example, some anti-viral treatments are only effective in the early stages of the infection. The test being developed would give the doctor critical information on whether to administer those treatments, or to move on to other effective measures.
"Having a test that will tell you on site that a Zika outbreak is occurring, so you can do it at the point of care," she said.
That will enable public health officials to get earlier warning of a Zika outbreak and can quarantine an area if necessary, or put out warnings to pregnant women and others to seek treatment or avoid the area.
Dr. Patterson and other Texas Biomed researchers are working with colleagues from University of California Berkeley and Brigham Young University on the test, which has been called 'a lab in a chip.'
Researchers have been working for two years to come up with an effective way to test for Zika in patients.Researchers say that this same type of testing may also be effective on the far more virulent African import, the Ebola virus.
PHOTO: Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Josh Parks