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Scientists Develop new Test that can Detect All Viruses

 
 
 
 
 
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An illustration depicting the three basic types of viruses. (Wadsworth Thomson Learning)

Thanks to a newly developed test, doctors can now diagnose virtually any virus known to infect people and animals, researchers say.

There are thousands of viruses known to cause illness in people and animals. The sheer quantity of the viruses makes their diagnosis very difficult and time-consuming as it involves a battery of tests. Current testing procedures do not have the sensitivity to detect all viral ailments or are limited to a range of viruses that a patient is suspected of having.

The new technology was developed by a team of scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, according to a press release issued by the group on Tuesday. The new test, ViroCap, is to be publicly released so that other researchers and doctors can use and improve it.

“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” said Dr. Gregory Storch, a professor of at the university. “It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels. We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown.”

According to test results published in September in the Journal Genome Research, ViroCap showed 52 percent general improvement over the current gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are usually used in clinical laboratories. The number of viruses detected increased from 21 to 32.

“The test is so sensitive that it also detects variant strains of viruses that are closely related genetically,” said Todd Wylie, another professor at Washington University. “Slight genetic variations among viruses often can’t be distinguished by currently available tests and complicate physicians’ ability to detect all variants with one test.”

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