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Researchers from Japan and India have developed a rapid and effective test for chikungunya virus that will more suitable for use in developing countries than current diagnostic techniques.

According to research, the new test is not only more sensitive and more specific than current techniques but, crucially for developing countries, is also simpler and more cost-effective.

Chikungunya virus is spread by mosquitoes. It causes high fevers and severe pain in ankle and wrist joints. The disease affects Africa, India, southeast Asia and the western Pacific. Outbreaks in India last year affected more than 1.25 million people, according to the World Health Organization.

The RT-LAMP test precisely detects a gene, E1, from the chikungunya virus in body fluid samples from patients. The test was developed by Manmohan Parida from the Defence Research and Development Establishment, India, with colleagues from Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences, India, and Nagasaki University, Japan. 

The researchers say the test is ten times more sensitive and is more specific for E1 than the current test, RT-PCR. The test correctly identified 21 additional cases that were missed by RT-PCR.

The new test also takes just 30 minutes, whereas RT-PCR needs 3–4 hours. It is cost-effective and simple to perform, since the test does not require high-precision instruments.

Bikram Saha, assistant professor of Medicine at the Midnapore Medical College Hospital, India, agreed that "the currently available techniques have limitations in regard to their implementation in poor developing countries, because these tests work on sophisticated instruments, relatively higher cost and difficult methods".

But the test would have to be further assessed in a larger number of patients before it could be implemented in general practice, he added.

The research was published in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. 

Reference: Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 45, 351 (2007)

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