Monday, September 24, 2007

Catching bird flu in a droplet

Detecting bird flu may soon get a whole lot easier, according to a report online in Nature Medicine this week. Juergen Pipper and colleagues describe a cheap, fast and effective droplet-based system for detecting the H5N1 virus directly from a throat swab sample in less than 30 minutes. The method could also be adapted to other viruses such as SARS, AIDS and hepatitis B.

In the event of a flu epidemic, its rapid containment would depend on the prompt identification of the first cases. But as routine surveillance may be problematic in countries with limited public health resources, low-cost, easy-to-use detection assays would be are advantageous.

The new system uses droplets that contain particles to automatically isolate, purify and concentrate viral RNA. The method is as sensitive as other available tests, but over one hundred times faster and even cheaper. In addition, it may be applicable not only to the flu virus, but could be adapted to other infectious agents, and to other bodily fluids like blood, urine or saliva.
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