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University of Iowa News Release


April 30, 2009

PHOTO: Jeff Benfer, public health microbiologist at the University Hygienic Laboratory, prepares to test for swine flu.

UHL explains 'What happens to my test for swine flu?'

As health care professionals across the state of Iowa test for swine influenza A, people may be wondering, "Who conducts the testing for swine flu and how are positives determined?"

The central hub for such testing in Iowa is the University Hygienic Laboratory, which is the state's public health and environmental lab. The Hygienic Laboratory was established by Iowa law and serves all 99 Iowa counties.

When suspected swine flu specimens are brought to the Hygienic Lab, located just north of Iowa City, the scientists and support staff follow these steps:

--Specimens are processed and prepared for analysis and assigned a bar-coded label for data entry.

--Once the specimens are in the virology section of the lab, scientists look for the influenza A virus.

--Once testing is complete, laboratory analysts verify results. Specimens received by the Hygienic Laboratory in the morning are generally ready for reporting by the end of the day.

--If the novel strain of influenza is suspected to be present, the specimen is sent on for confirmatory testing, which is currently being conducted at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

--In the coming days, the Hygienic Laboratory expects to receive testing kits from the CDC so that confirmatory testing can be conducted in Iowa.

--If the CDC (and later the Hygienic Laboratory) confirms a positive for the novel strain of swine flu, CDC notifies the Hygienic Laboratory, which in turn notifies the Iowa Department of Public Health and the physician who ordered the test.

"In this process, it's important to remember that not every person who goes to the doctor not feeling well is tested for swine flu," said Christopher Atchison, director of the Hygienic Laboratory. "Physicians will determine if patients meet CDC criteria for testing before they collect specimens and send them to us. Besides the swine flu, regular seasonal influenza is still being detected by the lab."

Atchison said the Hygienic Laboratory is anticipating a surge in testing from this outbreak of a new strain of swine flu. Since the outbreak began, the laboratory has distributed approximately 1,900 specimen collection tubes to health care providers across the state.

"Health care providers are preparing for the onslaught of testing," said Michael Pentella, Ph.D., associate director of infectious disease testing at the Hygienic Laboratory. "Their efforts are very important."

STORY SOURCE: University Hygienic Laboratory, 102 Research Park, H101 OH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-5002

MEDIA CONTACT: Pat Blake, 319-335-4177,