David Henrique Ferreira, 5 months, who was born with microcephaly, is kissed by his mother Mylene Helena Ferreira on Jan. 29, 2016, in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded around 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
The World Health Organization announced on Friday that a commercial test for the rapidly spreading Zika virus could be available in weeks.
Heretofore, only the Centers for Disease Control and a few health departments in various states were able to definitively diagnose the enigmatic virus spread by mosquitoes and via bodily fluids through sex.
“Although it is difficult to predict the time for the first commercial and independently validated tests to be available, we are talking weeks and not years,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general for health systems and innovation at the WHO.
USA Today reports that an easy-to-use test would help doctors and commercial labs diagnose patients more quickly and help researchers monitor populations to determine whether the virus is spreading. The new tests would also ease the burden from public health departments and speed up research.
The test could be performed with blood, amniotic fluid, urine or spinal fluid, according to medical researchers.
There is currently no vaccine available to prevent Zika, a virus recently shown to cause birth defects in children born to pregnant mothers who are infected. Large-scale human trials—the kind generally needed to get vaccines approved—are still 18 months away.
At this time, the WHO is advising pregnant women to consult their doctors before traveling to places with Zika outbreaks or to consider delaying travel. The organization is also asking expectant mothers and their partners to practice safe sex with condoms if they are returning from such areas.
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