Tidal wave of Swine Flu Specimens Puts Stress Public Health Laboratories

In the United States, the number of confirmed and suspected cases of A/H1N1 influenza continues to increase day by day, although the overall number is limited. As of today, Thursday, the CDC reports 109 confirmed A/H1N1 cases in 11 states, and one confirmed fatality in the state of Texas.

Clinical laboratories across the United States are swamped with phone calls from physicians’ offices and requests for collection supplies. In recent days, a tsunami of influenza specimens has begun to tax the ability of medical laboratories to perform this testing and provide results within normal turnaround times.

This increased activity means that clinical labs are drawing down inventories of flu collection supplies and flu test kits. Many laboratory directors tell Dark Daily that it is impossible to get replacement inventory from suppliers-because demand for these products exceeds the manufacturing capacity of these companies.

At the same time that clinical laboratories are dealing with this surge of activity from physicians’ offices, there is a comparable flu specimen backlog building in public health laboratories in cities and states. Hospitals and medical laboratories are submitting specimens of suspected swine flu patients to their public health laboratories for confirmation testing. Overwhelmed by this high volume of flu specimens, some public health laboratories are days behind in their typing and confirmation testing.

A posting on an Internet laboratory discussion group yesterday had one pathologist writing that “We had a patient with a positive swab for influenza A over the weekend. We sent the specimen to the health department in Houston for typing, but they still have not run it. When we called, they said they are overwhelmed with specimens and are waiting for the Texas State Department of Health to give them guidance on how to triage the testing. If this backlog is occurring across the country, then it’s possible that the incidence of H1N1 influenza is being seriously underreported.”

Public health officials in the United States are warning the public that this swine flu outbreak is not likely to end soon. As this proves true, clinical laboratories should expect to deal with a steady inflow of telephone calls from clinicians, accompanied by above-normal volumes of flu specimens. The rapid depletion in the inventory of collection supplies and influenza test kits means that laboratories will struggle to accommodate this huge increase in influenza test kits.

Related Information:

CDC Web Page on Swine Flu

Mexico shuts nonessential services amid swine flu

Officials say US deaths expected from swine flu