The test, which is still experimental, can be performed for as little as $25 and could become an important research tool for tracking patterns of diseases in various population, which can help scientists compare people in different parts of the world and can also compare the old and the young.
This test can also be used to find whether it is the virus or the body’s immune response to them, contribute to chronic diseases and cancer.
The test can detect past exposure to more than 1,000 strains of viruses from 206 species, pretty much the entire virome, i.e. all the viruses known to infect people.
The test works by detecting antibodies, highly specific proteins the immune system has made in responses to viruses.
Stephen Elledge, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the lead author of the study said, “There are people walking around with chronic Hepatitis C infections that have no idea they have them. Now imagine if this was a routine test that was done every time you went to the doctor. With things like Hep C, the earlier you treat them, the better.”
Elledge added, “There are a number of diseases that could be initiated by a viral infection, so it’s an interesting idea to have a patient come in with a disease and say, let’s take a look at what viruses they’ve been exposed to.”
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University said, “This will be a treasure trove for communicable disease epidemiology. It will be like the introduction of the electron microscope. It will allow us to have more resolution at a micro level.”
Dr. Elledge also says that they were surprised by what happened in people with HIV. He notes that they expected their immune responses to other viruses would be diminished. Instead, he says, they have exaggerated responses to almost every virus, and they don’t know why.
Dr. Elledge concluded, “While not perfect, we think this method represents a very large step forward toward the goal of comprehensive analysis of viral infections.”