US scientists develop Zika test kit

21 March 2017
Zika virus sign at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on 21 March 2016. Researchers at FAU are developing a portable and affordable diagnostic kit for use at airports. Source: PA

Scientists at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in the United States are working on a portable kit to test for and diagnose the Zika flavivirus for use at airports and other border crossings.

In the absence of a vaccine, the researchers aim to mitigate the impact of a repeat of an ongoing epidemic, which began in Brazil before spreading to the rest of the Americas and further afield.

Florida is the worst-hit state in the United States, with 1,069 reported cases by 15 February 2017.

With affordability as well as effectiveness in mind, the FAU device uses inexpensive paper- or plastic-based materials, a cassette-sized container holding up to 12 saliva samples at a time, and a receptacle about the size of a tablet.

The researchers are working to adapt their device to diagnose the Zika virus, and recently received a grant to establish proof-of-principle and then further test and commercialise the device.

Producing a solution for deployment at airports is important, as air travel can be a vector for transmitting contagious diseases.

"Most of the Zika cases in the United States and especially in Florida are travel related," said Dr Waseem Asghar, lead investigator and assistant professor at FAU. "We are working to develop a tool that can be used without expensive laboratory equipment and skilled technicians in various settings like an airport to provide reassurance to expectant families and those concerned because of recent travel. For about USD2 and within 15 minutes, we hope to accurately determine whether or not an individual has an active infection."

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