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Hygienic Lab Helps Validate New Rapid Influenza Test

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The University Hygienic Laboratory was one of six public health laboratories in the nation to participate in the validation for a new test that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved on Oct. 1 for the rapid detection of influenza virus.

The new test cuts the analysis time from days to hours and can detect and identify commonly circulating human influenza viruses as well as avian influenza A (H5N1), often referred to as "bird flu."

"Time is a critical factor in virus detection," said UHL Director Christopher Atchison. "If Iowa were to face pandemic of influenza, it would be crucial for us to rapidly test for the virus in order to stop its spread. This new test cuts the time for analysis from several days to just four hours."

The work conducted by Iowa's Hygienic Laboratory helps to advance the rapid disease detection, which in turn can reduce suffering and transmission of influenza.

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For the past two years, UHL has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) to measure the effectiveness of the method. The new test is a molecular method called the Human Influenza Virus Real-Time RT-PCR Detection and Characterization Panel (rRT-PCR Flu Panel). It uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to make up to one billion copies of a specific influenza virus gene to make a diagnosis in a matter of hours compared to virus culture, which can take days.

"The UHL has a long history of influenza testing where we have utilized traditional viral culture, and we added molecular methods three years ago," said Lucy DesJardin, UHL program manager of molecular research and development. "The expertise of our staff positioned UHL to participate in the test validation process. We also have partnered with the Iowa Department of Public Health for years on influenza surveillance and awareness activities, so we have a strong foundation."

This test will allow laboratories across the country to utilize a standardized method that is capable of detecting both seasonal and atypical influenza viruses, including the "bird flu" strain of the virus.

Other public health laboratories that conducted clinical trials of the new PCR test include the CDC and state laboratories in California, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin.

The University Hygienic Laboratory is part of the University of Iowa and is the state of Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory. The UHL is the designated laboratory for the Iowa Neonatal Metabolic Screening Program, with facilities located on the Oakdale Campus in Iowa City and at the Iowa Lab Facilities in Ankeny, a Des Moines suburb. Among its many services, the laboratory functions as a consultative and analytical support facility for state agencies, health professionals and citizens. The UHL performs analyses on samples from virtually all matrices, including human clinical specimens, air, drinking water, wastewater, soil, sediment, industrial effluents, oil and fish.