Correctly diagnosing an illness is vital to our ability to treat it, and a new medical tool, known as the ViroCap, may soon provide doctors with just that ability. The test can accurately diagnose viruses, even when doctors have no idea what they’re actually looking for. However, it will still be a few years before this test finds its way into your doctor’s toolkit.

According to a recent study published in the journal Genome Research, the ViroCap can detect virtually any virus known to infect humans and animals, ranging from common viruses like norovirus to more exotic ones like Marburg. The test is so sensitive that it can even detect variant strains of viruses as well as multiple viruses at the same time, something no other current diagnostic test is capable of. Along with this, UPI reported that the ViroCap was 52 percent more accurate at diagnosing viruses than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are currently used for diagnoses.

“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” said the study’s senior author Gregory Storch, according to Silicon Republic. “We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown.”

Due to their smaller size and keen ability to evade detection, viruses are much more difficult for doctors to identify when compared to bacteria and other microbes. This task becomes all the more difficult when doctors don’t know what they’re looking for. Meanwhile, some viruses aren’t detected at all despite the patient undergoing a variety of tests. Testing in general can also be expensive; the diagnostic test for the Ebola virus can cost upward of $1,000, the Mirror Daily reported. The ViroCap test hopes to address all these issues by offering an accurate and affordable way to diagnose patients.

Along with viruses, researchers also hope to make the ViroCap capable of detecting and identifying bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens. However, the virus-detecting tool still isn’t available, so those developments are a long way away. Researchers are currently working on improving the test’s accuracy as well as putting it through a series of intensive clinical trials, which will determine whether it works as effectively as it did in the lab in a real-world setting.

Source: Wylie TN, Wylie KM, Herter BN, Storch GA. Enhanced virome sequencing through solution-based capture enrichment. Genome Research. 2015