Accurate diagnostic tests for Zika virus infection are needed to distinguish it from other flavivirus infections and to identify women who have been infected with Zika virus during pregnancy and may be at risk for developing fetal complications. Blood, organ and tissue donor screening tests are also needed to assure the safety of transfusion and transplantation in areas of active mosquito-borne virus transmission. Currently, Zika virus often can be detected during the acute phase of infection and up to 14 days after the onset of symptoms using diagnostic tests for viral RNA. Prior Zika infection can be detected by antibody-based tests, however, these tests may also detect or cross-react with antibodies against other flaviviruses, particularly dengue virus. That’s why a positive antibody test does not definitively confirm prior Zika virus infection in areas where there may have been possible co-infection or prior infection with dengue and other related viruses.
NIAID is working toward the development of improved Zika virus diagnostic tests by supporting its scientists and grantees to generate antibodies that can distinguish between Zika virus and dengue virus. Additionally, research is underway to create novel recombinant Zika virus proteins that are less cross-reactive to other flaviviruses that could be the basis for new antibody tests. Further, NIAID-supported scientists are working to identify biosignatures unique to Zika infection that could form the basis of additional rapid diagnostic tests.