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IAEA Trains Experts to Use Diagnostic Tools for Quick Zika Detection

Vienna, Austria

RT-PCR machines can help speed up detection of viruses

Over 35 participants from 26 countries will be trained at the IAEA laboratories this month in the use of a nuclear-derived technique to quickly and accurately detect the Zika virus. The effort is part of the IAEA’s assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean in response to the Zika outbreak, which includes strengthening countries’ capacity to detect the virus and to control the mosquitos spreading the disease.

Zika is a disease transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus has spread to 33 countries and territories in the Americas since its presence was confirmed in the region in 2015. Countries in other regions have also been affected.

The early, fast and accurate detection of Zika is crucial in order to manage outbreaks. The virus has been associated with serious birth defects and neurological disorders in adults. As infected individuals typically only display mild and short-lasting symptoms, quick and reliable laboratory testing is the only way to determine if there is an outbreak within an area or country. There is currently no treatment or vaccine for Zika.

Participants will learn how to use the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) technique, and to apply the procedures recommended by WHO and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the detection of Zika.

“This proven and efficient nuclear-derived technique can detect a virus within three hours. The training includes practical and epidemiological simulations, and will help prepare national laboratories to quickly differentiate Zika from other similar viruses, such as dengue and chikungunya,” said IAEA Deputy Director General for Nuclear Sciences and Applications Aldo Malavasi.  

The training is taking place from 4 to 15 April at the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/ IAEA agriculture and biotechnology laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria.  Of the 26 participating countries, 22 are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Participants are from laboratories affiliated with national health authorities, and will multiply the impact of the training by sharing their knowledge at home so that we can build enduring and sustainable capacity in the region to cope with Zika ,” said Dazhu Yang, IAEA’s Deputy Director General for Technical Cooperation.

Responding to requests for assistance, the IAEA has already provided diagnostic RT-PCR tools to Latin American and Caribbean countries in early February, shortly after WHO declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern.

In March, the Agency launched a four-year regional project worth Euro 2.3 million to help countries apply the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) as part of integrated vector control measures.  SIT is a form of pest control that uses ionizing radiation to sterilize male mosquitoes in special rearing facilities, which are then released over target areas, effectively suppressing the insect population over time to protect humans from disease transmission. 

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