As the transmission of the Zika virus continues to spread across the world – having reached 70 countries, including the U.S. – a quick, accurate, and cost-effective testing method is needed now more than ever to determine whether a patient has contracted the virus. A saliva-based test may be effective, and oral health professionals like the team at our Happy Valley family dentistry may soon be able to play a vital role in the future detection and surveillance of the Zika virus, according to a new study published in the Journal of Dental Research.
Brazilian and Canadian researchers may have discovered an effective saliva test capable of detecting the Zika virus. In their study, researchers used saliva samples collected from a pregnant woman infected with the virus and from her twins to identify the specific protein signature of Zika. This could lead to the development of an effective test capable of determining whether a patient has been exposed to the virus.
“This study is exceptional in that we were able to detect Zika virus peptides in the saliva of a mother and her twin babies at 9 months post-infection,” wrote the study authors.
Preventing an International Emergency
The first documented case of the Zika virus in North America occurred in October 2013. By 2016, the World Health Organization had declared Zika an international public health emergency. While the primary way Zika is spread is through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, other transition methods include blood, sexual, and intrauterine routes. Zika has been linked to birth defects, developmental and growth anomalies, and some motor neurological manifestations in adults.
The current method of testing for Zika utilizes blood tests that look for changes in a patient’s RNA. However, this type of testing can only detect the virus between five to seven days after first exposure. Once that narrow window closes, the test no longer becomes useful in detecting the virus. Conversely, saliva-based tests can detect the virus far longer after the initial exposure has occurred.
In the most recent study, a 25-year-old in her first trimester of pregnancy was successfully diagnosed with a Zika virus infection. Six months after the onset of the infection, she gave birth to twins. One baby was diagnosed with microcephaly while the other was born healthy.
Researchers collected saliva samples from the twins and their mother three months after the children were born. The saliva samples showed that the patients had no symptoms or signs related to an infection from the virus.
Researchers also collected saliva samples from two healthy Brazilian babies of similar age as a negative control group. Researchers then used a mass spectrometer to analyze all of the saliva samples collected.
In the analysis of the saliva samples, researchers discovered a total of 423 unique Zika virus peptides in the mother, 607 in the baby with microcephaly, and 183 in the twin baby without microcephaly. However, researchers discovered no signs of any Zika peptides in the saliva sample of the kids in the control group.
A Positive Global Impact
The findings of this study could have a positive global impact, according to researchers.
“This research has the potential to positively impact global health,” wrote researchers in a press release. “By detecting the virus, the infected individuals can have their symptoms and the virus progression properly monitored, as well as take action to stop the spread of the virus, which causes these devastating craniofacial defects in newborns.”
Researchers have received an early U.S. patent that will allow them to develop a simple device that can be used to detect the virus in saliva peptides outside of a laboratory.
A Key Role for Our Happy Valley Family Dentistry Possible
One of the primary challenges of diagnosing Zika lies in the virus’ similarity to other viruses, such as yellow and dengue fever. Most tests currently used for detecting Zika could also provide a positive result in patients suffering from dengue fever, which makes diagnosis difficult in certain communities around the world.
Researchers believe that the role dentists play in diagnosing the Zika virus could be expanded in the future.
“In many countries, people have closer and more frequent contact with the dentist than other healthcare providers. Dentists should know about the possible presence of Zika virus in blood and saliva and take appropriate precautions to prevent transmission.”
When additional research validates the results of using saliva as a means of detecting Zika, oral health professionals like at our family dentistry in Springfield may be able to play an active in helping to control Zika around the world.