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Rapid Lab Test Available for Bird Flu Diagnosis

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed a rapid diagnostic test for bird flu infection that was approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on February 3, 2006.

The test uses technology known as Reverse Transcription--Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) to amplify and detect genetic material from the influenza A/H5 from the Asian lineage, the same virus that has been associated with bird flu outbreaks in animals and humans in east Asia, Turkey, and Iraq. No infections with this virus have been reported in animals or human in North America, although the doctors at the CDC have recommended an "enhanced surveillance" for possible cases of bird flu in the U.S since February 2004. This means that people who develop respiratory illnesses who have had contact with infected poultry in a country with known avian influenza outbreaks should be tested to determine whether they have been infected with the bird flu virus.

The new test is carried out on a sample of a respiratory secretion (either through a swab or aspiration) taken at a clinic, emergency room or doctor's office. The sample would then be sent to one of about 140 laboratories in the CDC's network, which should be able to perform the test and generate results in two to four hours. Older tests to identify the bird flu virus took a minimum of two to three days for results to be available.