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Format: 04/19/2014
Format: 04/19/2014


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Allegheny County Health Department lab will provide help combat flus

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

By Allison M. Heinrichs


The Allegheny County Health Department's new laboratory should help officials quickly diagnose swine flu if it makes a comeback this fall, when people might need two shots to protect against that virus and the seasonal flu.

Dr. Bruce Dixon, department director, told the county Board of Health on Wednesday that he expects the $5.6 million lab in Lawrenceville to open this summer. Myriad problems, including low water pressure and inadequate ventilation, have delayed the opening more than a year.

"We're on the verge of being able to occupy the building and start processing specimens," Dixon said.

After the lab opens, Dixon will request a test kit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The kit will allow the Health Department to confirm suspected cases of swine flu — the H1N1 virus.

Health officials are awaiting the results of a probable case involving a county resident who returned from a visit to Colorado with a type of flu they couldn't identify. Dixon suspects the person has swine flu, but results from the CDC aren't expected until next week because of a backlog.

State health officials yesterday confirmed swine flu in a Montgomery County man — the second confirmed case in Pennsylvania.

The Allegheny County laboratory will help health officials handle a surge in swine flu as well as the seasonal flu, which typically begins to take hold in November.

At least two shots will be needed to immunize people against both bugs, according to the World Health Organization, which is expected to decide next week whether to ask manufacturers to formulate a swine flu vaccine.

"I think that it would be prudent to be prepared (for this to be) widely transmissible," said Dr. Donald Burke, a member of the county health board and dean of the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health.

"My guess is that it probably will come back next season as a different kind of flu than we've had before," he said. "How severe it will be is still anybody's guess."

Flu viruses typically mutate from season to season as they spread around the world, making it difficult to pinpoint the best vaccine, said Dr. Sharon Kiely, medical director of quality and patient safety at Allegheny General Hospital.

"The truth of the matter is that sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong," said Kiely, who will advise the National Institutes of Health this month as a member of their council for allergy and infectious disease. "The flu virus is a fickle thing."

To read more, visit the Tribune Review web site.


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