New Blood Test Can Track Viruses You’ve Been Exposed to – The blood test can become an important tool for tracking disease patterns in populations.
Stephen J. Elledge, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and his team developed a a new test that can detect using just a drop of blood, past exposure to over a 1,000 strains of viruses from nearly 206 species, encompassing all viruses known to infect humans. The test works by checking if the body’s immune system has developed antibodies to deal with the virus. Presence of the antibodies indicates the an individual has been exposed to a particular virus.
The blood test was tried on over 500 people in the US,South Africa, Thailand and Peru, and found that the majority had been exposed to 10 species of viruses, such as those causing, the common cold, influenza, and gastrointestinal illness.
Some of the participants had been exposed to as many as 25 virus species, and researchers were still trying to explain how this may have been possible. Researchers also found differences in exposure patterns from continent to continent, and they associate this to differences in population density, cultural practices, sanitation or genetic susceptibility.
According to Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, the new test can provide valuable information for communicable disease epidemiology. Study authors say the new technology can help answer questions about cancer, such as why the same disease progresses faster or slower in some people or why a particular drug or therapy works for some and not for others.
However, the test is not perfect; it can miss very small viruses and infections that occurred way back and the immune system no longer has any antibodies for them.