Hamilton hospitals are detecting swine flu five times faster than other hospitals, with a test created by a local doctor.
The rapid test — only being used in Hamilton — gets results in six to 24 hours, compared with waiting up to five days for the public health laboratory to confirm H1N1 flu.
“They’re extremely fast,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, associate medical officer of health, about the hospitals’ regional laboratory. “Excellent, excellent turnaround times in that lab.”
The test was created on the fly in three days by Dr. Jim Mahony so local hospitals would know right away what drugs to give patients with influenza symptoms and whether they need isolation rooms and other precautions such as special masks for staff.
“It’s unbelievably fast,” said Dr. Mark Crowther, acting chief of laboratory medicine for St. Joseph’s Healthcare and Hamilton Health Sciences.
“We’re able to very quickly ascertain whether the person has this or not.”
That’s crucial for local hospitals, which are short of beds and cash.
“With anybody who has a serious respiratory illness, we take special precautions ... and we have a limited capacity to do that,” said Crowther. “If you have a patient who is in isolation for five days waiting for a test, it clogs up beds.”
Hamilton and Halton had no new cases of swine flu today. The numbers continued to rise in Ontario with six more ill, bringing the province’s total to 119 cases — all mild — including two in Hamilton and 11 in Halton.
The province’s central public health laboratory in Toronto is handling all tests for H1N1, causing backlogs because of the large volume of work that needs to be done.
Faced with waits of up to five days, Hamilton’s hospitals started using Mahony’s test at the beginning of the month.
The Hamilton virologist is well known as the inventor of another rapid test approved this year in Canada and the United States and used around the world — but not in Hamilton — called the xTag Respiratory Viral Panel.
That test detects 20 respiratory viruses, from the common cold to SARS to avian flu, in six hours. Its maker, Luminex Corporation, announced this month it’s also effective at detecting swine flu.
Mahony revised the test to focus solely on influenza using samples of H1N1 sent to him from the United States and Mexico.
It quickly determines whether a patient has influenza, and if so, what type. Those results are later confirmed by the public health laboratory.
Hamilton’s hospitals don’t normally use Mahony’s test because it costs two to three times more than conventional methods.
But they’re making an exception for the revised influenza test.
“We have absolutely no idea how we’re going to pay for it,” said Crowther. “The situation is sufficiently important that we worry about that afterwards.”