PORTLAND, Ore., Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Oregon researchers have developed new testing methods to determine who has been infected in outbreaks of smallpox or the related monkeypox.
Dr. Mark Slifka, lead author and assistant scientist at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, said valuable information was gained from the outbreak of monkeypox in the U.S. Midwest in 2003.
Because the monkeypox virus is eventually cleared by the body, the evidence is quickly wiped out, resulting in a high percentage of unconfirmed cases due to the limited window of opportunity for diagnosis.
But the new test found specific genes in the monkeypox virus are recognized by antibodies produced by the human immune system. By testing for this unique immune response, which remains detectable for years, researchers can accurately determine if the patient has been infected with the virus.
"While this research primarily focused on monkeypox, this same technology could also be used to better detect a smallpox outbreak ... if we were ever to be deliberately attacked with smallpox or other dangerous poxviruses as weapons of bio-terrorism," said Slifka.
The study will appear in the September 2005 journal, Nature Medicine.