Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne illness that causes severe, incapacitating and often chronic joint pain.
Researchers have developed a simple low-cost diagnostic test for chikungunya that can detect the mosquito-borne illness within two hours.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, along with a private commercial lab InBios International in US used another mosquito-borne virus that had remained largely unknown to create the new test that could help doctors diagnose and track the spread of chikungunya.
The formerly unknown virus, now named Eilat virus, is related to chikungunya and other mosquito-borne viruses and was collected in Israel's Negev Desert about three decades ago, said Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at UTMB.
The Eilat virus only replicates in mosquitoes, which makes it harmless to humans and other vertebrates, Weaver said.
"We started thinking that maybe there is something
practical we can do with this unusual virus," Weaver said.
The researchers found that they could replace the structural proteins of the Eilat virus with those of chikungunya and create a virus that looks like chikungunya to the immune system but will not replicate in humans, said Jesse Erasmus, a graduate student at UTMB who helped develop the new test.
Most diagnostics available today use chikungunya virus that has been inactivated.
That requires work in higher-level containment labs so these tests are more expensive to make and their sensitivity can be compromised by the inactivation, Erasmus said.
Working with InBios International, UTMB scientists used the Eilat virus-based chimera to create a safe and simple-to-use diagnostic test.
Health care professionals are able to take the serum of those suspected of being infected with chikungunya and, using the diagnostic test kit, have a result in less than two hours, Weaver said.
The study was published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne illness that causes severe, incapacitating and often chronic joint pain. It can be difficult to diagnose and most tests available now are expensive.