Viral TestViral tests are done to detect infection-causing viruses. Accurate diagnosis of viruses often requires numerous tests and can prove a lengthy and time-consuming process. A new test called the ViroCap could provide the solution. The team of scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis that developed this viral test claims that it can detect virtually any known virus that infects people and animals.

The ViroCap could be used to detect outbreaks of deadly viruses such as Ebola, Marburg and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), as well as more commonly occurring viruses. By offering an accurate and affordable way to diagnose viruses, the ViroCap test could prove valuable to address many issues that physicians face

  • Difficulty in identifying the virus when compared to bacteria and other microbes due to their smaller size and keen ability to avoid detection
  • Cause of the disease is unknown and doctors do not know what they are looking for
  • Many viruses cannot be detected even by a variety of tests
  • High costs of viral tests

The test is just as sensitive as the gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays which are used widely in clinical laboratories. However, even the most expensive PCR assays can only screen for up to about 20 similar viruses at the same time. The researchers told UPI that the ViroCap had a 52 percent improvement over PCR tests.

The researchers evaluated the new test by taking two sets of biological samples from patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital – for example, from blood, stool and nasal secretions. The results of standard PCR tests were compared against the ViroCap. It was found that:

  • In one group, PCR identified viruses in 10 of 14 patients, while the ViroCap detected viruses in the other 4 patients that earlier testing had missed.
  • In another group of children with fevers, the standard test detected 11 viruses in 8 patients, while the ViroCap detected 7 additional viruses.

According to the senior author of the study, “With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for. 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.”

The ViroCap test is currently in the early stages of development. It requires more clinical trials and may take more years before it can be put to practical use. The researchers hope to make the test capable of detecting and identifying bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens as well.