Asia-based testing for a virus carried by bats

A straightforward dipstick test has been developed to screen for a highly infectious, potentially fatal virus that is transmitted by bats to humans and pigs in Asia. The research was led by the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The study on the Nipah virus that was published in Frontiers in Microbiology was conducted in collaboration with the Australian Center for Disease Preparedness of CSIRO and the Center for Bioinnovation at UniSC.

The virus was first discovered in Malaysia in 1999. There, it was linked to an outbreak of respiratory and neurological disease in pigs. When it spread to humans, it caused encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, and people died.

The virus causes a fever, headache, cough, trouble breathing, and vomiting in humans. Confusion, seizures, coma, severe respiratory distress, and encephalitis are all examples of severe symptoms. 40 to 75% of the cases result in death.

“Our test allows, for the first time, screening for the virus outside of the laboratory,” Dr. Joanne Macdonald, an associate professor of molecular engineering at the University of South Carolina, stated.

“We can do this through a clever example planning technique that inactivates the infection in the initial step of the method, making it protected to perform testing beyond a lab.”

Dr. Nina Pollak, a postdoctoral researcher, used the UniSC technology to find the Nipah virus. She said that a simple lateral flow dipstick showed a result that was similar to COVID RAT screening.

Dr. Pollak, a UniSC Research Fellow, stated, “However, it is much more sensitive than a RAT because it includes an amplification step similar to a PCR, which provides laboratory-level sensitivity in a highly portable format.”

A quick, portable, point-of-care test for the Nipah virus, according to Dr. Macdonald, would be useful in Asia’s rural or remote areas where the virus has caused outbreaks in the past and in areas where fruit bats, which are known to carry the virus, are found.

She stated, “Such a test would also be useful for health care workers, veterinarians, personnel from the ADF, and other professionals who may be at risk of exposure to the virus.”

Although the Nipah virus has not yet been found in Australia, it is very similar to the Hendra virus, which has killed people and horses in Queensland and New South Wales and is spread by flying foxes.

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