The coronavirus pandemic has shown that we should not only be concerned about known viruses: scientists and clinicians should look for new and emerging options that can bypass existing treatments and take us by surprise.
There are a number of ways to detect new viruses that may pose a threat to human health. Monitoring diseases in animals, for example, can give us warning about viruses that can cross over from one species to another.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of research to be done, and not all animal pathogens are designed to infect humans.
A nose swab developed by researchers at Yale University could quickly alert experts that an unknown risk is beginning to emerge in a population, without the need for direct detection of the virus.
Based on initial tests, this test can be a quick and effective way to detect hidden viruses that might otherwise be missed.
“While screening collected animal or human samples may reveal unknown viruses, this approach does not accurately identify viruses capable of causing human disease,” the researchers wrote in the published paper. late – that is, after the epidemic has already begun.
The new study builds on a previous study by the same team that took an anomalous look at the results of nasal swabs already taken from patients with a suspected respiratory infection.
Typical nasal swab tests aim to detect 10 to 15 known viruses, but previous research has shown that in some cases there was still evidence that the body was fighting infection even if no virus had been identified. In particular, high levels of an antiviral protein produced by the nasal mucosa called CXCL10 could be detected.
A new study has published a comprehensive genetic sequencing process in ancient nasal swab samples that found large amounts of CXCL10, resulting in a rare influenza virus called influenza C.
Through the same process, the team found four cases of “Covid-19” that had not been detected at the time of sampling.
A typical hospital may perform hundreds of nasal swabs weekly that show no sign of a recognizable virus, but the presence of CXCL10 indicates that the body has sensed the presence of the virus, meaning the swab deserves closer attention.
In other words, even if we miss the viruses in the samples, the response of the human body may alert us to new unregistered variants. The researchers suggest that many new viruses can be detected and viewed in this way.
This suggests that scanning for CXCL10 may narrow the pool of samples that should be tested for unknown viruses. This will not lead to infection in every case, but should increase the efficiency of finding new outbreaks.
“Because this approach relies on immune recognition of common features of many viruses, it does not require prior knowledge of the pathogen,” the researchers wrote.
Future research may take a closer look at other proteins that may have the same link, and how nasal bacteria can also indicate the presence of a virus, another link suggested in the new study’s findings.
The study is published in The Lancet Microbe.
Source: Science Alert