Simple Paper-Strip Test Might Spot Flu, and Which Type You Have

TUESDAY, June 25, 2024 (HealthDay News) — A simple and inexpensive paper strip test could help diagnose a case of the flu, and even identify the influenza strain that caused it, a new study finds.

The test can distinguish between influenza A and B — the two main types of seasonal flu — as well as identifying more virulent strains like H1N1 and H3N2, according to results published in the July issue of the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics.

The goal is to create a fast, accurate and cheap test that can improve outbreak response and infection care around the world, researchers said.

“Ultimately, we hope these tests will be as simple as rapid antigen tests” used to test for COVID, said co-senior researcher Cameron Myhrvold, an assistant professor at Princeton University in New Jersey.

The test uses genetically engineered enzymes to identify specific sequences of viral RNA in samples, researchers said.

The technology was first used to test for the COVID coronavirus, and later to distinguish between the Delta and Omicron variants, researchers said.

In 2022, the team began adapting the test to detect the influenza virus, with the aim of creating a screening tool that could be used in the field or in clinics rather than hospitals or high-tech diagnostic labs.

“Using a paper strip readout instead of expensive fluorescence machinery is a big advancement, not only in terms of clinical care but also for epidemiological surveillance purposes,” said co-lead researcher Ben Zhang, a medical student at Harvard Medical School.

The test can be conducted at room temperature in about 90 minutes, but researchers hope to have it eventually produce results in as little as 15 minutes.

The test also can distinguish between different flu strains. This could help doctors identify strains that resist antiviral treatments like the drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

“Being able to tease apart what strain or subtype of influenza is infecting a patient has repercussions both for treating them and public health interventions,” co-lead study author Jon Arizti-Sanz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, said in a institute news release.

The researchers now are working to adapt the test so it can track avian and swine flu strains that are threatening to cross over into humans, Arizti-Sanz said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about influenza.

SOURCE: Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, news release, June 21, 2024