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Scientists develop method to test for Zika Virus

Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in a lab at the Fiocruz institute on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.
Mario Tama | Getty Images
Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in a lab at the Fiocruz institute on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.

Scientists have made a break-through in their testing against the Zika virus, with researchers from Harvard University's Wyss Institute coming up with a method to detect the mosquito-borne virus in humans.

The discovery could help to prevent the spread of Zika, which is now reported in 55 countries worldwide– 42 of which had never had any outbreaks previous to 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

The low-cost, rapid paper-disc diagnostic tool screens blood, urine, or saliva samples for specific strains of the virus, according to the release on the Wyss Institute website. It then changes to purple if the virus is present, or becomes yellow if the sample is free from infection.

"The growing global health crisis caused by the Zika virus propelled us to leverage novel technologies we have developed in the lab and use them to create a workflow that could diagnose a patient with Zika, in the field, within two to three hours," said synthetic biologist James Collins of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, who led the research.

The Zika virus, transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, has had scientists across the world scrambling to find some sort of immunization. It is extremely difficult to combat as the tiny mosquitoes attack both during the day and at night, and can live both in- and outdoors. Sexual transmission of the Zika virus is also possible.

Zika is especially dangerous for pregnant women, as it is linked to several severe birth defects transferred to the fetus - including microcephaly- a condition in which a baby is born with a small head or the head stops growing after birth.

"We hope a tool like this can help reduce the impact of the outbreak until a vaccine can be developed," said Keith Pardee, one of the study's co-first authors and an Assistant Professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at University of Toronto, in the release.

The World Health Organization deemed the current Zika outbreak a public health emergency in February.

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