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Your Viral History

June 8, 2015

A new diagnostic test identifies a patient’s entire viral history with just a pinprick of blood.



1280px-Epstein_Barr_Virus_virions_EM_10.1371_journal.plos bio.0030430.g001-L Liza Gross CC BY 2.5

Electron microscope image of two Epstein-Barr virions. (Liza Gross/PLoS Biol/Creative Commons License BY 2.5)

A pinprick reveals your viral history. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Generally, doctors have to guess which virus might be causing certain symptoms and order a test for that specific virus. But Harvard Medical School geneticist Stephen Elledge and his colleagues thought there must be a better way.

STEPHEN ELLEDGE (Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital):

We thought there should be a way to systematically screen all viruses simultaneously.


In the journal Science, he and his colleagues describe called a new technology VirScan. For just $25 and a drop of blood, the new test can identify any of the thousand-plus viruses known to infect humans.


There are a lot of really serious viruses that go undetected and can give you serious damage.


For example, millions of people infected with Hepatitis C are unaware, while the virus silently damages the liver. An annual virus test could detect this and other infections before they show symptoms. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.