Rapid Virus Detection With New H5N1 Test Kit
Connie K. Ho for RedOrbit.com
There’s that old adage, better to be prepared than to be sorry. Researchers have made it possible to be prepared in the case of a pandemic outburst of the H5N1 virus, otherwise known as the avian flu. An effective and quick H5N1 bird flu test kit has been made available after a collaborative effort among the Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC), the Agency for Science and Technology Research (A*STAR), as well as clinicians from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). Doctors can quickly determine all existing strands of the H5N1 virus within an hour with the help of the kit. Makers of the kit believe that it assists various public healthcare groups in preparing against H5N1, which is a highly infectious disease found worldwide.
Generally, the bird flu isn’t normally transmitted to humans. However, researchers believe that it can “jump” from birds to humans, causing infections and possibly even death. H5N1 remains a public health safety hazard as the majority of people are not immune to it. As such, public health experts believe that the best way to protect against an outbreak is to utilize tools that can effectively and rapidly pinpoint the type of H5N1 disease.
“In the event of a pandemic, the most crucial thing is to identify the pathogens – what is causing the problems. The second is to seek the proper medical care for treating patients. Thirdly, if the pathogens are highly infectious to the community, we must prevent further spread of the infection using accurate and rapid diagnostic test is one of the immediate medical needs. Until now, there was no H5N1 injection kit,” explained Dr. Masafumi Inoue, a Senior Research Scientist and Project Director of Technology Development from ETC.
The made-in-Singapore H5N1 test kit, otherwise known as the 5N1 real-time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) assay, is currently the only device that can detect all the strains of the H5N1 virus quickly and effectively within a few hours. The test was developed by Inoue and Dr. Timothy Barkham, a senior consultant of Laboratory Medicine from TTSH.
“We managed to develop a kit that could now rapidly and accurately detect all existing strands of H5N1… We have managed to provide solutions to critical problems that will benefit the health care of the public immensely,” remarked Inoue. “We are excited to be able to contribute to the fight against H5N1 virus with our expertise and know-how. Our technology has greatly simplified and accelerated the process of detection and identification of new H5N1 variants. Such information is especially critical when the virus mutates to become more dangerous, such as in drug resistance.”
The new H5N1 test is also compatible with the “4-plex” Influenza diagnostic kit that is currently used by a number of hospitals in Thailand. The researchers believe that using multiple assays will help detect and diagnose the different types of influenza in a rapid manner with a single test. The test will decrease costs and time spent by hospital labs and clinicians in determining key factors of the influenza.
“While there have not been any reported H5N1 cases in Singapore, this mutating subtype of influenza virus type A continues to be a concern. The ability to detect and characterize influenza strains remains important in the management of the disease,” commented Barkham. “With this latest H5N1 assay, we can easily combine it with our previous 4-plex Influenza kit to differentiate which strain of Influenza is present with one test, giving a definite diagnosis and faster turnaround for our patients and our colleagues in infection control and public health.”