The method, called VirScan, provides an alternative to sampling blood for one virus at a time, said researchers, who described the new technology in the US journal Science Thursday.
The new approach, developed by scientists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), helps health professionals identify multiple factors that might be affecting a person’s health, rather than just one virus.
It also helps researchers analyze viruses in a larger population, and can be performed at $25 per blood sample.
“We’ve developed a screening methodology to basically look back in time in people’s (blood) sera and see what viruses they have experienced,” said Stephen Elledge, an HHMI researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The researchers have already used VirScan to analyze the blood of 569 people in the United States, South Africa, Thailand and Peru.
The test works by searching a person’s blood for antibodies to any of the 206 virus species that are known to infect humans.
Even after a body’s immune system has kicked a virus, it continues to produce the antibodies against that virus for years, which is what the scientists search for.
The researchers tested the method on blood from patients known to have specific viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis C.
“It turns out that it works really well,” Elledge said.
The 569 people tested had an average of 10 different virus species each.
Elledge said his team was also using the method to look for antibodies that attack a person’s own tissue in autoimmune diseases that are associated with cancer.