U.S. laboratories are on high alert as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa worsens. Now that the outbreak has spread to American shores with a patient currently being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, how should clinical labs at other institutions prepare to respond? An AACC-sponsored webinar on October 7 will address best practices for managing and testing specimens from patients who might have Ebola or other suspected emerging infectious viruses. An online survey open until October 6 will give the webinar speakers a better idea of how U.S. labs are prepared to respond to suspected Ebola virus specimens. AACC also plans to share the survey results with public health agencies and other professional organizations so they might modify their guidelines to reflect the survey’s feedback. In addition, AACC might compile key messages from the survey as a resource for our members.

Catherine Hammett-Stabler, PhD, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine with the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, will moderate the 60-minute webinar. Presenters include: Nancy E. Cornish, MD, medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Laboratory Science and Standards, and Sheldon Campbell, MD, PhD, director of laboratories at VA Connecticut Health System and associate professor of laboratory medicine at Yale University School of Medicine.

Topics of discussion include:

  • Current CDC recommendations for handling and testing specimens from suspected Ebola virus patients;
  • The importance of recognizing the differences between viruses like Ebola, SARS, and MERS and how to accommodate for such differences in a lab’s management plan; and
  • The role point-of-care testing plays in managing patients with suspected emerging viruses.

A key concern is how to balance patient care with risk to laboratory workers, says Campbell. “There are still unknowns as to the potential modes of spread within a laboratory of potent emerging viruses such as Ebola or MERS or whatever comes next. But in a larger context, these are still rare diseases, and we have to protect laboratory staff without compromising care for the many ill patients who don’t have an emerging virus.”

In discussing the key takeaways from his presentation, Campbell says laboratorians should stay aware of emerging diseases, and follow the course of outbreaks. As information emerges and risks change, labs should modify policies and procedures accordingly.

They should utilize guidelines from authorities, but also conduct local risk assessments that reflect their institutional conditions and situations, using the best data available, he says.

Although point-of-care testing can be used to mitigate risk, it should be done so as part of a larger risk-management strategy, Campbell says.