It takes about 15 minutes to get a flu test done at your doctor's office and receive the results. You can spend that entire wait scrolling through your Facebook feed and only be marginally bored by the time it comes back. Flu tests are one of the simpler disease detection tests. Compare that 15 minute wait time to the 12 hours of testing you'll need to detect Ebola with an ELISA kit (and if you're testing for Ebola, you're probably not going to feel bored). Disease testing can be a nerve-wracking process, especially if you might have a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. Thankfully, at least one disease test now has a much shorter wait time for results.
Up until last week, it could often more than a week to detect Zika virus in pregnant women because blood samples had to be sent to the CDC. The tests weren't completely reliable, so patients had to test multiple times. Zika also doesn't stay in the body, so if someone waits too long to get tested, they may still come up negative even if their fetus has been affected. The biggest problem for pregnant women awaiting Zika test results is that they don't have the luxury of time on their side. "They're trying to decide what to do with the pregnancy, given so many unknowns," said Dr. Christine Curry in an interview with NPR. "The difference between two and four weeks can be the difference between being able to end a pregnancy and not." That's a lot of pressure.
Luckily, last week scientists came up with a new Zika virus test that can deliver results in just two to three hours. The system is actually based on a test previously used to diagnose Ebola and uses CRISPR technology to track down the virus's genetic material. Altogether, the test's components cost about $1 to implement and can also detect other viruses like the flu. "In response to an emerging outbreak, we envision a custom-tailored diagnostic system could be ready for use within one week's time," says biologist James Collins, whose team came up with the test in under two months. Now the challenge is securing enough funding to implement the test on a large scale; it's hard to say how much it will cost to put together the testing kits and s hip them out, but Collins promises the team is working to commercialize the system. If they're successful, pregnant women living in and traveling around Zika-infected countries will be able to get the testing they need to make sure their pregnancies remain unaffected by the virus.