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Quicker avian flu diagnosis developed

  |   Aug. 29, 2006 at 12:15 PM
WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists report developing a microchip that cuts the time needed for a detailed diagnosis of avian flu from a week or more to fewer than 12 hours.

The new technology -- a microchip covered with bits of genetic material from many different flu strains -- was announced by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The microchip, in addition to signaling whether bird flu is involved in a diagnosis, also usually reveals which flu strain is involved, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Such a rapid and detailed diagnosis will enable public health officials investigating a bird flu outbreak to quickly decide whether to kill thousands of birds or to treat hundreds of potentially exposed people with expensive antiviral drugs, the newspaper said.

Current diagnosis protocols require samples be frozen and shipped to a highly secure laboratory where the virus can be genetically sequenced. That process can take more than a week to complete.

The new test, called FluChip, can be performed in any laboratory that can amplify bits of genetic material, officials told The Times. Samples need not be frozen and the work can be conducted in laboratories with lower biosecurity levels.

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