Texas Children’s Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital have developed the country’s first hospital-based rapid tests for the Zika virus.

The Zika virus is a member of the Flaviviridae family and is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. It is composed of RNA as its genetic material.

The test was developed in a few weeks under the LE and Virginia Simmons Collaborative in Virus Detection and Surveillance.

Texas Children’s Zika test development team leader Dr James Versalovic and medical microbiology and virology director Dr James Dunn said the test can be tailored to each hospital’s diagnostic laboratory.

It can be performed on blood, amniotic fluid, urine or spinal fluid.

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The tests are said to target the RNA to detect a possible contamination by the Zika virus in pregnant women and adults or children.

The test is recommended for women travelling to Zika virus affected countries during their pregnancy and for patients displaying symptoms akin to acute Zika virus infection such as a rash, arthralgias or fever.

"The tests are said to target the RNA to detect a possible contamination by the Zika virus in pregnant women and adults or children."

Versalovic said: "With travel-associated cases of the Zika virus becoming more prevalent in the United States, coupled with the looming increase in mosquito exposure during spring and summer months, we must be prepared for a surge of Zika testing demand.

"We must provide answers for anxious moms-to-be and families who may experience signs and symptoms or may simply have travel history to endemic areas."

The test is designed to distinguish the Zika virus infection from dengue, West Nile or chikungunya virus infections. It is expected to replace local testing conducted at state public health laboratories and the Centres for Disease Control, which takes hours for diagnosis.

The test is currently being administered to registered patients at Texas Children’s or Houston Methodist hospitals. However, the labs are considering referral testing from other hospitals and clinics in the future.

Image: A rash on an arm due to the Zika virus. Photo: courtesy of FRED.