A Simple Guide to Virus Testing

Virus testing
By Ayisha Malik, Content Marketing Specialist, EMEA

Virus testing is needed to determine suitable treatment plans

During a viral infection, virus particles fuse with the host cell and manipulate its bio-chemical pathway to reproduce and spread. Unlike bacterial infections, there is no easy way to exterminate a virus without causing significant damage to the host. It is, therefore, important to identify the type of pathogen before proceeding to a treatment plan. However, virus testing is also crucial in several preventative aspects of healthcare and many different tests have been developed over the years to assess and identify virus particles quickly and accurately.

Why do we need virus testing?

Viruses cause many severe illnesses and tests need to be carried out to determine suitable treatment plans or for the effective implementation of preventative measures. These tests often serve as routine procedure or may be required during medical investigations.

When we think of virus testing, identification of infectious agents is what primarily comes to mind. However, it is also an important tool in the early diagnosis of infection that can minimises the spread and damage in both individuals and their community. Virus testing is routinely used to verify immunity status before a medical procedure or after vaccination and it forms a crucial part of antenatal and postnatal care. Additionally, proper verification of viral contamination is essential in ensuring safe organ and blood donor programs.

Different methods of virus testing

visual inspection virus testing method
A number of virus testing methods have been developed and optimised throughout the course of modern medicine that can be used in isolation or in combination for detection and diagnoses. Tests are chosen based on several factors; a simple or inexpensive test may first be recommended to determine the presence or absence of viral particles, while more intricate methods of virus identification are applied if the first test comes back positive.

Image source: www.pixabay.com (modified)

Visual inspection

Viral isolation is not always required for virus identification. Medical professionals confirm Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infections by assessing squamocolumnar cervical cell samples that are routinely extracted, stained and observed under a microscope. Abnormal cell morphologies are indicative of HPV activity and early onset of cervical cancer.

The virus culture test also looks for viral activity. Bodily fluids or tissue samples are collected from a patient and incubated with selected cell lines. The test is positive when the sample induces an infection in the healthy cells. Virus culture is a slow process and can take several weeks to show a result, but it useful as it allows pathologists to easily isolate virus particles that can then be used in additional diagnostic tests.

Antigen detection test

Viral antigen detection tests are used as a diagnostic tool in early stages of a disease. During an active infection, viral antigens often develop on the surface of infected cells or are secreted into the blood stream. Using immuno-histological techniques and solid phase immunoassays, infectious viruses can be identified in both cell and blood samples.

DNA or RNA detection tests

Viral DNA and RNA tests use precise molecular methods to detect the presence of known pathogenic nucleic acid fragments in a patient sample.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests amplify selected segment of pathogenic RNA or DNA and produces a positive fluorescent signal when it is present in a patient sample, while sequencing is used to generate the full sequence of a virus genome. This method is useful in highlighting very small differences in strains of viruses that cannot be identified using other diagnostic methods.

With the advancement of science and technology, DNA and RNA based diagnostic and detection tests are becoming cheaper, faster and more automated. While many of the virus tests mentioned in this article continue to serve as quick and accessible means to disease investigation and prevention, PCR and Sequencing techniques offer the potential for early detection and a greater understanding of virus characteristics. So, it is reasonable to assume that these will becomes the primary diagnostic tools of the future.

Read the entire article: Why Virus Testing is Important and Different Testing Methods

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