AUSTIN (KXAN) — Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are finding inexpensive ways to detect deadly viruses in mosquitoes.
One of those is the Zika Virus, which has recently prompted worldwide concern.
Health officials believe the virus is behind a dramatic spike in the number of newborns with microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in babies born with abnormally small heads, that can lead to death.
Yu Sherry Jiang is one of the graduate students working on the diagnostic tools. “We want to develop this system that everyone can easily operate,” said Jiang. “We hope our product can be used by anyone.”
One device they’re developing applies molecular technology to hack into the workings of a common pregnancy test. The test would be able to tell whether mosquitoes carry blood-borne pathogens like malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya virus.
Another one utilizes a portable box with LED lights. You can essentially crush a dead mosquito and put it into a solution. The solution is then heated and placed into the box. If the brightness changes, the disease is detected.
“We hope our technology could improve health care in poor areas, so everyone can have a chance and opportunity to take care of themselves,” said Jiang.
The tools are cheap, and get results fast, meaning they can be used in developing countries.
Controlling the diseases could be easier if communities knew whether the mosquitoes trapped in a given area carry an infection. “My research is going to be useful, is going to be helpful,” said Jiang. “That’s the motivation for you to continue doing your research, I think that’s the best part of my research, at least!”
The researchers also hope to one day get these tools to individuals, so they can test themselves for diseases, using saliva.
Seven people have been infected by the Zika Virus across the country including one person in the Houston area. Everyone who tested positive for the virus contracted it while traveling overseas.
The Centers for Disease Control has expanded a travel alert to include several Caribbean and Latin American countries – including Barbados, Bolivia, and Ecuador.