Mobile phones can be used to detect potentially deadly norovirus.
Notorious due to outbreaks on cruise ships, only 10 particles of the highly contagious microbe can cause the vomiting insect in humans.
Norovirus can also strike closer to home with outbreaks of water and food in water systems, schools and restaurants.
Now researchers have developed a simple, portable and inexpensive way to detect extremely low levels of norovirus in water.
Mobile phones can be used to detect potentially deadly norovirus. Notorious due to outbreaks on cruise ships, only 10 particles of the highly contagious microbe can cause the vomiting insect in humans. Shown: how the device works
WHAT IS NOROVIRUS AND HOW LONG IS IT TO ERASE?
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach infections in the UK and it is referred to as a winter vomiting bug as it usually occurs in the winter.
It usually disappears automatically within 24 to 48 hours, but it can be very serious for already vulnerable patients and can lead to dehydration.
The virus, which can also cause diarrhea, is highly contagious and can cause huge disruptions in hospitals because it spreads so quickly between patients.
But the winter vomiting bug tends to mutate and some species are worse than others, leading to a higher number of infections.
Study leader Professor Kelly Reynolds of the University of Arizona in the US said: & # 39; Progress in rapid monitoring of human viruses in water is essential for the protection of public health.
& # 39; This fast, inexpensive water quality monitoring technology could be a transformative tool to reduce both local and global disease burden. & # 39;
Professor Reynolds said that devices for detecting norovirus in small quantities already exist, but they usually require a laboratory environment with a series of microscopes, lasers and spectrometers that can cost thousands of pounds.
To detect the norovirus in the field, such as on cruise ships or in wells, the team decided to use materials much more easily – paper, in the form of microfluidic chips and a smartphone.
Soo Chung, a biosystem engineering doctoral student who worked on the project, said: & # 39; Paper substrate is very cheap and easy to store, and we can easily fabricate these chips.
& # 39; Due to the fibrous structure of paper, liquid can also flow spontaneously without using the pumping systems that usually require other chips, such as silicon chips. & # 39;
The team has developed a new way to detect norovirus, by counting fluorescent beads instead of measuring light intensity.
The process begins with the addition of potentially contaminated water to one end of a paper microfluidic chip.
At the other end, a tester adds small, fluorescent polystyrene beads. Each bead is attached to an anti-norovirus antibody.
If the norovirus is present, several of the antibodies attach to each virus particle, creating a small group of fluorescent beads.
Dr. Jeong-Yeol Yoon, a researcher at the Biomedical Engineering Department of Arisona, said: & Noris virus particles are too small to be screened with a smartphone microscope, as well as antibodies.
& # 39; But if you have merged two or three or more of these beads, it means that the norovirus is present, causing the beads to collect. & # 39;
The bundles of beads are large enough to detect and photograph a smartphone microscope.
Next, a smartphone app that the researchers created counts the number of illuminated pixels in the image to identify the number of aggregated beads and then the number of norovirus particles in the sample.
In addition to cruise ships, Norovirus can also strike closer to home, with outbreaks of water and food in water systems, schools and restaurants
The researchers said the most expensive part of the entire device – the smartphone microscope – costs less than £ 40 ($ 50) and is also easy to use.
Dr. Yoon said: & # 39; You don't have to be a scientist or engineer to operate the device.
& # 39; The analysis is performed automatically by the smartphone app, so you only have to worry about loading a water sample onto the chip. & # 39;
Now the team hopes to develop methods for detecting norovirus infections in patients, even earlier, and to expand their smartphone monitoring platform to detect other hazards, such as potentially carcinogenic chemicals.
Dr. Yoon added: & # 39; Only a very small number of norovirus particles are needed to cause infection in humans, so we need a really sensitive detection method.
& # 39; The lowest detection limit corresponded to about five or six norovirus particles per sample, so it is very close to the level of one virus.
& # 39; When the norovirus reaches levels that can be detected by other methods, the person is already seriously ill.
& # 39; But if we can detect the virus earlier, they can get medical care earlier. & # 39;
Dr. Yoon said early detection could also help curb the spread of diseases in isolated, busy situations such as cruise ships, where distinguishing between a normal stomach upset and a norovirus infection could help quarantine efforts or a passenger to port faster for treatment.
Dr. Yoon will also present the research at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, California.
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