John Juma demonstrating how the molecular technique works to amplify RVFV (photo credit: ILRI/Kristina Roesel).

Scientists develop new tool to enhance surveillance of Rift Valley fever virus

By Mwangi Mumero

A new tool to generate data on the Rift Valley fever virus that affects cattle and humans has been developed.

Developed by the scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the new molecular tool will support near real-time genomic-based surveillance, allowing for a faster response to outbreaks and the prevention of epidemics.

Rift Valley fever causes serious illness and death in both humans and animals.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and can cause a range of symptoms in humans, from fever and headaches to liver damage and blindness.

It is also highly contagious in animals, with devastating effects on livestock populations.

During the disease outbreak in the 2006/7 period in Kenya, at least 162 people died and led to a loss of Ksh40 billion in livestock deaths.

Researchers note that although outbreaks have been reported across Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, there is no vaccine for humans and existing treatments in livestock have limitations.

The new molecular tool is expected to help look for the virus genetic material which is a proof of the virus presence in the body.

The tool is expected to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) enrichment technique, a process that involves amplification of the genetic material of the virus in a clinical sample.

“This method improves significantly genome recovery even in moderate viral particles –helping identification of the genetic materials of the virus,” observed Dr. John Juma, the research team’s lead author at ILRI.

This molecular technique is a significant development in the fight against RVFV as it helps scientists understand the virus better and track it during outbreaks.

The current gold standard test for Rift Valley fever sequencing, virus isolation in cell culture, is slow, expensive and can only be done in high-level biosafety laboratories.

 

Dr. Juma emphasized that the new technique could make a real difference in Africa, where outbreaks are frequent and have a significant impact on public health and the economy.

By generating genetic data of the virus early, healthcare providers can respond quickly, reducing the risk of the virus spreading and thus saving lives.

The ability to generate genomic data early could prevent epidemics, especially in regions where the virus is prevalent.

With further testing and refinement, this method could become an essential tool for public health officials and healthcare providers in the fight against the disease, researchers note.

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