Zika detection kits for Asia

  • 11/02/2016

Scientists in Asia are racing to put together detection kits for the Zika virus, as China confirms its first case, but researchers lack a crucial element -- a live sample of the virus.

Zika, suspected of causing brain defects in more than 4,000 newborns in Brazil after spreading through much of the Americas, is a particular worry in South and Southeast Asia, where mosquito-borne tropical diseases such as dengue fever are a constant threat.

On Thursday China confirmed its first case of the virus.

India is working on diagnostic kits for the virus, as there is no testing kit commercially available in the world's second most populous country, but the lack of a live virus sample is hindering efforts.

The country has written to international agencies, including the World Health Organisation, for a live sample after a strain from 1950 was found dead and not suitable for research, said Soumya Swaminathan, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, which spearheads biomedical research.

In Singapore, scientists are working on a diagnostic kit to simultaneously detect Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses, which are transmitted by the same type of mosquitoes and cause similar symptoms.

The city state, which is just north of the equator, has suffered a spike in cases of dengue fever this year, and has taken precautions against a Zika outbreak.

The new kit developed by Singapore's public sector research agency, Bioinformatics Institute of A*Star, would save two thirds of the cost and time needed to test for the three viruses individually, and can be run on standard hospital equipment.

The new kit is expected to be distributed to hospitals by the end of March, where it will undergo final testing on real viruses, if Zika eventually hits the shores of Singapore.