Part of what makes the Zika virus so scary—other than the fact that there’s no cure or vaccine—is that only one in five people infected will show symptoms. It’s a relatively surreptitious outbreak; an infected woman might not know she’s carrying the disease until she gives birth to a child with microcephaly.
But that will soon change. German biotechnology company Genekam has developed the first test to quickly detect Zika pathogens in a blood sample, according to Deutsche Welle, the country’s state-run international broadcaster.
“Our test examines DNA and works with chemicals that react to the Zika virus only,” Sudhir Bhartia, one of the developers, said. “Similar pathogens like dengue fever won’t show up in the results.”
Genekam has already shipped its first batch of kits directly to Brazil. In a less dire situation, the test would have to be approved through a long testing process, but authorities made an exception because of the rapid spread of Zika in South America.
However, access to the tests is limited. Only certain practitioners are authorized to administer the test, and the kits have been delivered only to specific labs that have a sufficient amount of resources and equipment. Luckily, the test is affordable, costing about 5 euros ($5.45 U.S.) for each use.
The test comes as a welcome development amidst the ongoing Zika outbreak, which has spread across 22 countries in the Americas, according to the CDC. Brazil, the epicenter of the disease, reports 3 to 4 million cases of Zika. There have been several reported cases in the United States, all from people who recently returned from affected regions. The World Health Organization has declared the virus a “global emergency.”
Last week, British biotechnical engineers began releasing genetically engineered male mosquitoes to quell the wild Aedes aegypti population, the species that carries Zika (as well as dengue fever and chikungunya) in Brazil.