A new “chip” can test for 11 different influenza strains, including avian flu, in less than a quarter of the time it now takes to diagnose flu in patients.

The test devised at the University of Colorado is still being validated, but the researchers hope to develop it into an on-the-spot test for influenza.

“The current gold standard for doing strain analysis takes about three to four days. That is going to be way too long if we get a highly virulent form of avian influenza that becomes human-adapted,” said Kathy Rowlen, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at the university who helped direct the research.

The main threat now is the virulent H5N1 avian flu virus infecting chickens in parts of Asia and Europe. Samples from suspected human cases of H5N1 are now sent to central laboratories for confirmation, but that takes days. Doctors need to know sooner so they can give patients antiviral drugs within 48 hours to lessen the severity of the illness.

The chip, which can be configured to test for any flu strain, has been tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was more than 90 percent accurate in identifying H5N1 flu samples, the university said in a statement.

“We can make it small and simple enough to take into rural areas in places like the Congo, Cambodia or Indonesia that may lack lab facilities,” Rowlen said.

By Maggie Fox

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