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OraSure Developing Rapid Zika Test

OraSure Technologies' scientists have trained their research sights on the latest global health threat, the Zika virus.

The Bethlehem company, which developed a rapid test for the deadly Ebola virus in 2015 based on its OraQuick HIV and hepatitis testing platform, is working on a similar diagnostic tool that would allow health practitioners to quickly determine if a patient has been exposed to Zika.

"We are developing Zika tests on the OraQuick platform and are also pursuing development funding for those activities through multiple sources and we will continue to pursue that," said CEO Douglas A. Michels. "Health officials have expressed an urgent need for highly sensitive rapid diagnostics, not just here in the U.S. but in other affected regions."

The virus, which is spread primarily by a particular species of mosquito, can cause severe birth defects if contracted by a pregnant woman. Most people who contract the virus experience mild symptoms such as fever, rash and conjunctivitis, and may not even know they are infected.

Endemic to Africa, Zika was first detected in South America last year and has spread through much of Central America and the Caribbean.

The virus is expected to eventually gain a foothold in parts of the southern U.S., but so far all domestically reported Zika cases have involved travelers infected in parts of the world where the virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes.

OraSure's Ebola test was developed during a major outbreak in West Africa in late 2014 and early 2015. It was funded primarily by a commitment of up to $10.4 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also agreed to purchase $1.5 million worth of the tests.

The market for the Ebola test has been limited primarily to West Africa, where the outbreak was centered. Zika is more widespread, posing a broader threat to public health and a wider potential market for a rapid diagnostic test, if it can be successfully developed.

"The team is excited about it," Michels said. "We've got a road map we have created with the Ebola test so we are pursuing it aggressively."

OraSure is already getting "good support from potential partners" in federal government and academia, and has invested some of its own money to obtain materials it needs to begin development, Michels said. "We think we are in a great position to develop and provide a tool to deal with this serious issue."

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