Jamaica now fully equipped to test for Zika virus

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Jamaica no longer has to send samples overseas to test for suspected cases of the Zika virus, with the National Virology Reference Laboratory, housed at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) now fully equipped to test for viral infections.

This follows upgrading work undertaken at a cost of J$10 million (US$). The improvements have also provided increased capacity for the testing of Dengue and Chikungunya.

Minister of Health Dr. Christopher Tufton said the improvement work undertaken has significantly reduced turnaround time for test results of suspected viral infections.

“With these new facilities here, the turnaround time could be anywhere from a few days to a week depending on what you are testing for,” he said.

Previously, samples had to be sent overseas, including to the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad and Tobago, with the waiting time being anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

“At which point, it would have been very difficult to treat cases, so it would definitely create higher risk for those who were infected or felt they were infected,” the health minister pointed out.

Testing of Influenza A (H1N1) has been ongoing at the facility. A total of 46 cases of the virus – often referred to as the swine flu virus – have been detected in Jamaica to date.

Dr. Tufton noted that with some improvement in human capacity and additional machinery, the turnaround for tests can be even further reduced.

“That is something that I intend to look at with the technocrats at the Ministry for the next flu season,” he said.

The UWI virology laboratory, which also houses the National Influenza Centre for the island, is the only one that offers viral culture. It is a full service laboratory that performs a range of diagnostic services for the detection and monitoring of a wide variety of viral infection.
These include respiratory infections such as influenza, rubella, and measles; central nervous system infections such as poliovirus and herpes simplex; sexually transmitted infections; and gastrointestinal infections.

The lab was upgraded through resources from the National Health Fund (NHF) with support from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund.

It is now equipped with a state-of-the-art Real-time Thermal Cycler that has the capacity to test 96 samples and controls within two hours. This machine is also capable of testing multiple pathogens in one sample. (Caribbean 360)

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