New Test can ‘Detect Virtually any Virus’
Will it have a profound impact on medicine?
A report published in the journal Genome Research details a new test developed by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis that can detect virtually any virus.
The new test, ViroCap, purportedly works so well that you don’t even need a doctor’s examination to get the correct diagnosis.
“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Gregory Storch, M.D. “It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels. We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown.”
Low levels of viral bugs cannot be detected by current tests, or are limited to detecting only those viruses suspected of sickening a patient, as they simply aren’t sensitive enough.
ViroCap has been shown to detect viruses in patients that other tests would have certainly missed. The test is just as sensitive as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are considered the “gold standard” in clinical laboratories. But even PCR tests are only capable of screening for up to 20 viruses at a time; ViroCap could hypothetically test for essentially any virus. 
During the study, standard testing detected viruses in 10 of 14 patients, but ViroCap detected viruses in the 4 children that earlier testing had missed. In a second group of children suffering from unexplained fevers, standard testing detected 8 out of 11 viruses, but ViroCap uncovered another 7 viruses.
In all, the number of viruses detected in the two patient groups increased 52% – from 21 to 32.
Additionally, standard testing indicated the presence of influenza A, which is the cause of seasonal flu. The new test, however, showed that the virus was an especially harsh subtype called H3N2. Such a finding could be especially useful in determining how to treat a patient.
ViroCap is being made public to scientists and clinicians globally for the purpose of research and potentially treating patients. But scientists say further research is needed to validate the accuracy of the test before it can be used in a clinical setting.
The study’s authors hope the technology could one day be used to detect bacteria, fungi, and other microbes, as well. It could also help investigators identify drug-resistant pathogens. 
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.