Pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists at Texas Children’s and Houston Methodist Hospital developed the nation’s first hospital-based rapid test for the Zika virus in a matter of weeks as part of the L.E. and Virginia Simmons Collaborative in Virus Detection and Surveillance.
This collaborative program was established to facilitate rapid development of tests for virus detection in a large metropolitan area. These tests are customized to each hospital’s diagnostic laboratory and designed to provide results within several hours. Before the Zika test was developed, physicians faced the possibility of long delays of testing in local and state public health laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Texas Children’s Pathologist-in-Chief Dr. James Versalovic and Dr. James Dunn, director of medical microbiology and virology, led Texas Children’s team tasked with developing a rapid test for Zika virus.
Transmitted primarily through mosquito bites, Zika is a flavivirus that contains RNA as its genetic material. This new diagnostic test identifies virus-specific RNA sequences to detect Zika virus and can distinguish Zika virus from other virus infections like Dengue, West Nile or Chikungunya. Every viral particle contains genes in its RNA and these RNA sequences are directly detected on blood, amniotic fluid, urine and spinal fluid.
Currently, only registered patients at Texas Children’s or Houston Methodist hospitals can receive the test but the labs will consider referral testing from other hospitals and clinics in the future.
The test will be initially offered to patients with a positive travel history and symptoms consistent with acute Zika virus infection such as a rash, arthralgias or fever, or asymptomatic pregnant women with a positive travel history to any of the affected countries. The World Health Organization has advised pregnant women to consult their doctors before traveling to places with Zika virus outbreaks and consider delaying travel. The CDC issued similar guidelines to pregnant women last month.
“With travel-related cases of the Zika virus becoming more prevalent in the U.S. coupled with the looming increase in mosquito exposure during spring and summer months, we must be prepared for a surge of Zika testing demand,” Versalovic said. “We must provide answers for anxious mothers-to-be and families who may experience signs and symptoms or may simply have a travel history to these endemic areas.”
Click here for more information about the Zika virus and what Texas Children’s maternal fetal task force is doing to develop strategies based on CDC screening guidelines for pregnant women who may have been exposed to the Zika virus.