Tropical countries are highly prone to infectious diseases such as the one caused by zika virus. Infection by zika is clinically and epidemiologically highly relevant. For example, when women are infected by zika during the first trimester of pregnancy, the child incurs a high risk of microcephaly and acute neurological syndromes. In adults, the virus is associated with the Guillain-Barré syndrome and other disorders. The worldwide emergency caused by zika in 2013/14 demonstrated the need for rapid and accurate diagnostic tools for the virus. Current diagnostic methods include virus isolation, serological tests, and molecular assays. However, virus isolation requires labor-intensive and time-consuming cell culture; serological detection suffers from cross-reactivity caused by previous exposure to homologous arboviruses that cause symptoms like those caused by zika, while molecular tools commonly are not designed for differential zika detection. This work reports on developing a specific molecular detection method based on phylogenetically conserved primers designed for the specific diagnosis of the zika virus. The zika primers were systematically selected through a rigorous bioinformatic analysis and demonstrated the capability to be highly specific. We tested our primers on synthetic DNA, cell cultures and samples from patients infected with zika, dengue and chikungunya and found that they detected zika with specificity high enough for differential virus diagnosis.
Keywords: Diagnosis; Differential diagnosis; PCR; Tropical diseases; Zika virus.
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