Zika Virus OutbreakSpread to people through mosquito bites, blood transfusion and sexual contact, Zika virus outbreak has reached epidemic levels in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports as of March 2, 2016, 153 cases of travel-associated Zika cases were reported in US States.

An article in The Washington Free Beacon reports that as per the new government oversight report, the United States expects more than 4 million cases of the Zika virus to occur in the Western hemisphere alone. The report warns that the virus is likely to spread throughout the Americas.

The virus is also difficult to spot as a large number of infected individuals do not exhibit symptoms. As per the report, an estimated 80 percent of people infected with the Zika virus are asymptomatic. This has led governments to significantly undercount the number of infected individuals.

CDC’s travel guidance for travel to affected countries include the use of enhanced precautions for all travelers, as well as the recommendation that pregnant women postpone travel to affected areas. Though there have been no reports to date, CDC is also concerned whether the virus would contaminate the U.S. blood supply.

The report also mentions CDC’s two Zika diagnostic tests. While one test can only detect infection when an individual is showing symptoms, the second test is more specific, but is not suitable for screening a large number of individuals. Finally, there are no commercially available diagnostic tests in the United States now.

As the virus is expected to cause adverse fetal outcomes, pregnant women are at particular risk. WHO also advises pregnant women to consult their doctors before traveling to places with Zika outbreaks and consider delayed travel. A recent study published in the medical journal Lancet provides evidence for Zika virus infection causing the neurological disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Lack of validated diagnostic tests is a major factor that contributes to difficulty in estimating the prevalence of the virus. This viral disease also poses new challenges to vaccine development and testing. However, the happy news is that Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Inc. has recently announced its plans to release a genetic assay designed to detect the presence of Zika virus.

A leader in medical imaging, laboratory diagnostics, clinical IT and medical infrastructure, Siemens will be assisting healthcare professionals to quickly test for the presence of the virus. The assay named as VERSANT kPCR Zika 1.0 will help researchers identify the Zika virus, assist in the development of a vaccine, and ultimately help find a cure. It is available for research use only (RUO) and is designed to run on the Siemens VERSANT® kPCR Molecular System.