Dr. Stephen J. Elledge - Photo: Bryce Vickmark for The New York Times
Photo: Bryce Vickmark for The New York Times

A research article published in the journal Science last week reports that a new test can reveal every virus a person has been exposed to using less than one drop of blood. The test can also be performed for a cheap cost, $25, and is capable of detecting a human's past exposure to over 1,000 strains of viruses from 206 species. 

The experimental test, called VirScan, could help doctors to trace how viruses spread. It could also help answer questions about cancer, like why the disease progresses at a different rate for some patients, and why chemotherapy is a better treatment option for certain individuals than others.

According to infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner:

This will be a treasure trove for communicable disease epidemiology. It will be like the introduction of the electron microscope. It will allow us to have more resolution at a micro level.

A screening of sera from 569 subjects in the U.S., South Africa, Thailand, and Peru revealed that most people had been exposed to about 10 species of common viruses that cause colds, flu, and other gastrointestinal illnesses, but some subjects were exposed to as many as 25 species.

According to the senior author of the report, Dr. Stephen J. Elledge, "there were some differences in patterns of exposure from continent to continent. In general, people outside the United States had higher rates of virus exposure. The reason is not known, but the researchers said it might be due to “differences in population density, cultural practices, sanitation or genetic susceptibility.”

Scientists report that the experimental test provides endless research opportunities--tracking the spread of disease and identifying patterns, finding out how the response of a body's immune system can contribute to chronic diseases, and determining the best timing for vaccinations by identifying the age most children are exposed to a given virus. 

Read more about the study in the journal Science or The New York Times >>