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Researchers developing "dipstick" test for parasite infections

Health-care workers in developing countries may one day be able to use a simple test comprised of a chemical dye and blacklight to determine if patients are infected with three parasitic diseases: leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, or sleeping sickness.

Scientists at SRI International presented on development of the medial test at last week's meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Wired Science reports on how the test works and how it may prove to be a useful tool in industrialized nations:

The new test could be performed by unskilled personnel anywhere, in just a few minutes, with little more than an ultraviolet flashlight.

Healthcare workers could use strips of paper coated with the dye to diagnose people with all three trypanosomal diseases. To find out if their patient is infected, they would add a reducing agent to a bit of serum and then dunk the test strip into that mixture. If the paper glows with a fluorescent green hue when placed under a blacklight, the person is infected and should get antiparasitic drugs immediately.

Until recently, leishmaniasis was mostly a plague of the developing world, but quite a few soldiers picked up the disease while serving in Iraq, and immigrants have been bringing it to the United States.

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