In a step aimed at preventing future outbreak of diseases such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya, researchers in Brazil have developed a test that analyses clinical samples from patients to diagnose infection by 416 viruses found in the world's tropical regions.
The tool can be used by reference laboratories to assist epidemiological surveillance by detecting pathogens with the potential to cause epidemics in humans.
"The number of patients with suspected dengue, Zika or chikungunya infection will increase when summer arrives," said lead author of the study Victor Hugo Aquino, Professor at University of Sao Paulo at Ribeirao Preto.
"Conventional methods are frequently unable to confirm diagnosis of these diseases, so we don't know which viruses are circulating," Aquino noted.
If a tool like this had been available when Zika began circulating in Brazil, it might have been possible to restrict its spread to the initial outbreak location, he said.
"We took a long time to realise an epidemic was under way because no one was thinking of Zika at the time," he said.
In addition to the pathogens, the platform detects others that as yet have been identified only sporadically but could become epidemics.
Examples include Mayaro, an alphavirus related to chikungunya that is transmitted by wild mosquitoes such as Haemagogus janthinomys, and Oropouche, which to date has caused epidemics confined to riverine communities in the Amazon region and is transmitted mainly by midges of the species Culicoides paraensis.
"There are several other viruses that haven't yet caused problems in humans but may do so one day," Aquino said.
"They're evolving all the time, and with the degradation of natural environments infectious agents once confined to natural niches could spread farther afield," Aquino pointed out.
Although the platform is designed above all to detect pathogens transmitted by arthropods such as mosquitoes and ticks, it can also diagnose infectious agents transmitted by small mammals, like hantavirus, said the study published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
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