New Zika Virus Rapid Tests Developed in Texas

"We must provide answers for anxious moms-to-be," Dr. James Versalovic said in a statement

APTOPIX Guatemala Zika Virus

Two Texas medical center institutions say they have developed the country's first hospital-based rapid tests for the Zika virus.

Pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists at Texas Children's Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital developed a "Zika direct test" that would quickly determine if a patient has the virus, the hospitals said Tuesday.

The program was designed to facilitate rapid development of tests for virus detection in a large metro area, the hospitals said in a statement.

The tests are customized to each hospital's diagnostic laboratory and will provide results within several hours. They can be performed on blood, amniotic fluid, urine or spinal fluid, according to Dr. James Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children's and leader of the Texas Children's Zika test development team.

"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," Versalovic said. "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."

Doctors have had to wait for long periods for tests to be developed at local and state public health laboratories and the CDC, the hospitals said.

"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," said Houston Methodist Hospital Dr. James M. Musser, chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine, who led the Houston Methodist test development team.

The test works by detecting genetic material of the virus, and can distinguish Zika from other viral infections like Dengue or West Nile, Musser said in the statement.

So far, only registered patients at the two hospitals can receive the test but the hospitals say their labs will consider referral testing from other hospitals and clinics.

The hospitals say the test will be initially offered to patients with a positive travel history and symptoms that would indicate acute Zika virus infection, such as rash, arthralgias or fever. It will also be given to asymptomatic pregnant women who have traveled to any of the affected countries.

The World Health Organization is now advising pregnant women to consult their doctors before traveling to places with Zika virus outbreaks and consider delaying travel. The CDC issued similar guidelines to American women last month.

Texas Children's and Houston Methodist Hospital collaborated on the program thanks to contributions from Virginia "Ginny" and L.E. Simmons, who started it after the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak.

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