State health lab says there have been no suspected swine flu cases

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(Host) Vermont’s Health Department laboratory has been busy this week testing samples for signs of swine flu.

But, as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, lab technicians haven’t found any signs that the new strain of the flu has reached the state.

(Oetjen) "This particular assay is the reverse transcript assay in which RNA is converted into DNA and then the DNA is replicated into large quantities in which it can actually be visualized. This particular process is real time. You’re looking at the amplification process itself, not the product that’s produced.”

(Sneyd) Dr. Joyce Oetjen is one of two technicians in a small room on the second floor of the Vermont Health Department lab in Burlington.

Her explanation is technical but her task is simple. She and a colleague can look inside cells taken from people with flu symptoms and figure out whether there’s a virus inside.

In a nutshell, a chemical process and a computer analysis determine what’s going on.

(Oetjen) "There’s a background fluorescence level and if it reaches above that background level it’s considered positive."

(Sneyd) In a normal flu season, the Burlington lab analyzes about 400 samples in an entire winter.

But the publicity about swine flu has driven a lot of people to the doctor complaining about coughs, aches and pains. So, in just the past week, the lab has tested 50.

Mary Celotti is director of the state lab.

(Celotti) "Right now we can say if it’s a flu A untypable or a flu A seasonal. The untypable, flu A untypable, is what CDC wants us to send to them for further testing."

(Sneyd) Flu A untypable could be swine flu. But the federal Centers for Disease Control hasn’t given the state’s the specific information needed to confirm that diagnosis.

So states have to send any untypable test results to the CDC. And so far, Vermont hasn’t had any to send. That means there have been no suspected swine flu cases found in Vermont, yet.

The state lab will continue testing through the weekend – just in case.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


Swine Flu Resources from HHS and CDC


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