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HEALTH REPORT - New Test for H5N1, and New Findings Why Virus Is So Deadly

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Medical workers care for a bird flu victim in Medan, Indonesia last year
Medical workers care for a bird flu victim in Medan, Indonesia last year

Scientists continue to look for ways to deal with the deadly form of bird flu virus. Researchers in Singapore, for example, have developed a new test for the h-five-n-one virus. They call it a "lab on a chip."

If successfully marketed, the hand-held device could be used to look for cases in affected areas and help contain outbreaks. Project leader Juergen Pipper says medical or aid workers would know in less than half an hour if a person is infected.

The device tests material collected from a quick swab of a person's throat. The test uses magnetic force to control individual droplets containing added magnetic particles. The scientists say the droplet itself becomes a little laboratory that can do things like pump, separate and mix.

They note that an increasing number of similar tests are available to process cells, genetic material and proteins.

Juergen Pipper says the device can process complex tasks in a way similar to a traditional biological laboratory. The researchers say it works about ten times faster than current tests for the virus and could cost much less.

The developers think the same idea could also be used to find other viruses, including those that cause AIDS, SARS and hepatitis B.

Their research was published in Nature Medicine.

As of Tuesday, the World Health Organization had counted three hundred twenty-nine cases of the bird flu virus since two thousand three.

Sixty percent of the patients died. Many experts worry that the virus could kill large numbers worldwide if it starts to spread easily from person to person.

Indonesia has had the most cases, more than one hundred, and the most deaths. Last Friday a twenty-one-year-old man from west Jakarta became the eighty-sixth victim. Health officials say they do not know how he became infected.

An international team reported last week that the virus is so destructive, it can even infect unborn children. Researchers studied the bodies of two people killed by h-five-n-one. The study appeared in the Lancet.

They found that the virus caused a surprising amount of damage to the lungs. It also spread to the brain and to the digestive and reproductive systems. Ian Lipkin at Columbia University in New York says one victim was pregnant and the virus had spread to her fetus.

Yet the findings may help point to ways to limit damage by targeting not only the virus itself, but also how the body reacts.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Mario Ritter.

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