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Friday, May 8, 2009

Labs to Identify Swine Flu Virus recognized by WHO

DUBAI — If any suspected case of swine originated H1N1 influenza A is reported in the country, the UAE will have to depend on Oman, the nearest country with a World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised laboratory capable of identifying the new strain of virus.

The next choices for the UAE, due to their proximity, could be the Virology Lab at the Central Public Health Labs under the Ministry of Health and Population in Cairo, Egypt, the National Institute of Virology at the National Influenza Centre in Pune, India, and the National Institute of Health in Islamabad, Pakistan.

These were among the dozens of worldwide laboratories that found the place in the latest list of labs identified by WHO to perform real-time PCR tests to diagnose influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in humans. The WHO revised the list on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Health officials were unavailable for comments to specify the chosen lab for the UAE.

However, Director General of the Executive Board of GCC Health Ministers’ Council Dr Tawfik A M Khoja told Khaleej Times that three laboratories in Saudi Arabia were also being equipped with the facilities to conduct the confirmatory tests.

“This is the latest information announced by the Saudi Minister of Health. These labs are located in Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah,” he said over phone on Tuesday.

Dr Khoja said the GCC health ministers had already discussed the preparedness of the laboratories at their emergency meeting held in Doha
on Saturday.

“GCC countries with the laboratory capabilities to diagnose the virus will cooperate with others which do not have them,” he said.

When contacted, Director of Communicable Diseases Surveillance Unit of the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) of the WHO Dr Hassan Al Bushra told Khaleej Times that EMRO was tasked with making the diagnostic tools available to WHO accredited laboratories in the region and training the qualified technicians with them.

“We are organising a special training programme for them on May 17.”

WHO has been facilitating the distribution of real-time PCR kits with primers and probes specific for the H1N1 A virus to National Influenza Centres, national influenza reference laboratories and the Global Influenza Surveillance Network.

Like many other countries that do not have these facilities, the UAE can now do conventional tests on suspected cases to identify the classification of influenza viruses into A and B.

“Such countries can limit the number of suspected cases by ruling out the presence of H1N1A influenza virus. But if there is unsubtypable (UNSUBTYPABLE) H1N1 A influenza virus, the samples have to be sent to WHO designated laboratories for confirmation,” Dr Martin Opoka, an epidemiologist with the EMRO said.

On Tuesday, EMRO said in a statement that no cases of influenza A(H1N1) have been reported in the region to date. Though Israel is in the Middle East and has reported four laboratory confirmed cases, it comes under the European Regional Office of the WHO.

“WHO announces only confirmed cases reported by laboratories identified by the Organisation as having the capacity to diagnose the influenza A(H1N1) virus, while the media may sometimes refer to probable or suspected cases which have not yet been confirmed, and sometimes even refer to rumours,” an EMRO statement said clarifying on the discrepancies in statistics being reported by the WHO and various media houses across the world.

As of 6am GMT on Tuesday 21 countries have officially reported 1124 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection, the WHO said on its website.

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