AUSTRALIA

Fast, Cheap Zika Virus Test May Make For Fear-Free Rio Olympics Celebrations To Avoid Microcephaly

09/05/2016 9:21 AM AEST | Updated 09/05/2016 9:21 AM AEST
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Portrait of ecstatic young athletes together with medals. Group of runners standing together smiling with their hands raised in excitement on racetrack on a bright sunny day.

Australian Olympians travelling to Rio may benefit from a quick, new Zika test to make sure they don't pass on the devastating virus.

An outbreak across South America including Rio, where the Olympics are being held, has been linked to a sharp increase in birth defects like microcephaly about nine months later, leading researchers to observe, without a doubt, that Zika is the cause.

What's more, late last year, the mosquito-borne virus was shown to be able to spread through intercourse, causing concern for adults who may wish to fall pregnant.

For athletes including Australian golfer March Leishman, fear of viral transmission led to withdrawal from the Rio Olympics.

The new test, announced in journal Cell, quickly detects Zika virus in blood or saliva samples for less than a dollar per patient and it works with a fool-proof colour-changing swatch.

The only catch is it has only been tested on monkeys so far.

Harvard University Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering researcher James Collins said the test could be ready for people in a few months and said the same technology could be used to detect other viruses.

"We can now demonstrate a rapid prototyping and sensor assembly pipeline that can be applied to other emerging pathogens or health crises," Collins said.

"The test's low cost and minimal equipment also means that it can be used for monitoring the spread of illnesses across large populations of people, enabling us to monitor the pathogen as an outbreak is occurring."

At the Olympics, meanwhile, the best defence against the virus is to use mosquito protection including wearing repellent all day and sleeping with insect screens.

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