Infectious Disease Applications
Characterization and detection of infectious disease organisms have been revolutionized by PCR:
- The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (or HIV), of antibodies to the virus circulating in the bloodstream. However, antibodies don't appear until many weeks after infection, maternal antibodies mask the infection of a newborn, and therapeutic agents to fight the infection don't affect the antibodies. PCR tests have been developed that can detect as little as one viral genome among the DNA of over 50,000 host cells. Infections can be detected earlier, donated blood can be screened directly for the virus, newborns can be immediately tested for infection, and the effects of antiviral treatments can be quantified.
- Some disease organisms, such as that for Tuberculosis, are difficult to sample from patients and slow to be grown in the laboratory. PCR-based tests have allowed detection of small numbers of disease organisms (both live or dead), in convenient samples. Detailed genetic analysis can also be used to detect antibiotic resistance, allowing immediate and effective therapy. The effects of therapy can also be immediately evaluated.
- The spread of a disease organism through populations of domestic or wild animals can be monitored by PCR testing. In many cases, the appearance of new virulent sub-types can be detected and monitored. The sub-types of an organism that were responsible for earlier epidemics can also be determined by PCR analysis.
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