The First Quick-Response Zika Test is Here

There might be a much easier way to diagnose the Zika virus. A collaboration between two Texas institutions has developed the game-changing test.

The First Quick-Response Zika Test is Here Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock

Two Texas health institutions have collaborated to create the first hospital-based test to rapidly diagnose the Zika virus. Pathologists and scientists at Texas Children's Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital have developed the screening method in just weeks, thanks to a collaboration with the L.E. and Virginia Simmons Collaborative in Virus Detection and Surveillance, a sponsored program to facilitate the development of virus detection tests.

A matter of timing

As for the tests, they can render answers in a matter of hours and can be run on blood, amniotic fluid, urine or spinal fluid. Because the Zika virus contains RNA as part of its genetic material, the test can identify the presence of these virus-specific RNAs to provide a diagnosis.

"With travel-associated cases of the Zika virus becoming more prevalent in the United States, coupled with the looming increase in mosquito exposure during spring and summer months, we must be prepared for a surge of Zika testing demand," James Versalovic, M.D., PhD said in a release for this news. "We must provide answers for anxious moms-to-be and families who may experience signs and symptoms or may simply have travel history to endemic areas."

According to the release, doctors faced long wait times when testing patients for Zika in local and state public health labs and through the CDC—this new test has the power to change that.

"Hospital-based testing that is state-of-the-art enables our physicians and patients to get very rapid diagnostic answers. If tests need to be repeated or if our treating doctors need to talk with our pathologists, we have the resources near patient care settings," James M. Musser, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital and leader of the Houston Methodist test development team, said.

Who is eligible

This test can determine whether pregnant women, adults and children alike are carrying the Zika virus. It can even distinguish this from other mosquito-borne illnesses like Dengue, West Nile and Chikungunya fevers.

"This is a significant development as health authorities are recommending all pregnant women who have traveled to a place with a Zika virus outbreak get tested," Dr. Musser said.

As of right now, the test is only available at Texas Children's and Houston Methodist hospitals—but the labs will consider expanding its reach to other hospitals and clinics in the future. At this point, the test is reserved for patients who have traveled to the areas hit by Zika who exhibit symptoms consistent with the Zika virus.