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Monkeypox testing available for eligible VUMC patients

Aug. 31, 2022, 3:05 PM

Alison Benton, SMB, and David Gaston, MD, PhD, discuss pcr data analysis as they prepare to begin in-house monkey pox testing for VUMC-affiliated practices.
Alison Benton, SMB, and David Gaston, MD, PhD, discuss pcr data analysis as they prepare to begin in-house monkey pox testing for VUMC-affiliated practices. (photo by Susan Urmy)

by Jill Clendening

The Molecular Infectious Disease Lab (MIDL) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is now offering in-house monkeypox polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic testing for Vanderbilt University Medical Center patients who are eligible.

Monkeypox is an infection caused by a virus similar to poxviruses such as Vaccinia virus and Variola virus (which causes the now-eradicated smallpox). Infection with the monkeypox virus may begin with flu-like symptoms, possibly including fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, fatigue or swollen lymph nodes.

A vesicular or blister-like rash usually develops, appearing at the site of infection and possibly other body parts. The vesicles typically progress through stages and resolve by leaving scars. Prompt diagnosis is key to help those infected receive the best care and to slow the current global outbreak.

“We validated this test to benefit both patients and providers,” said MIDL Medical Director, David Gaston, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology. “Results are returned without delays that might occur from outsourced diagnostics. With in-house testing for VUMC patients, any necessary infectious disease containment and treatment can be initiated quickly. As an academic clinical microbiology laboratory, we felt it is best for our patients to validate an in-house test to provide the most reliable results in the shortest period of time.”

The in-house test detects monkeypox virus, the only currently circulating poxvirus. The test performs well and can detect monkeypox virus from swabs obtained from skin vesicles or other anatomic sites.

The projected turnaround from sample receipt to results is 36 hours, with the goal of providing results even earlier, Gaston said. Results might take longer for samples submitted over the weekend. Ordering will be limited to VUMC clinical sites, including both inpatient and outpatient locations, though testing may be expanded more broadly if demand indicates the need.

VUMC providers began collecting specimens daily on Wednesday, Aug. 31, with tests run by the MIDL Monday through Friday. If demand demonstrates the need, the MIDL group will evaluate expanding testing to seven days a week.

“We are really proud of the work that the MIDL team did to bring this test onboard for our VUMC patients,” said Romney Humphries, PhD, professor of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology and division director for Laboratory Medicine.

“This outbreak highlights yet again how important diagnostic test development is to address emerging infectious diseases, particularly when there may not be FDA-cleared tests available.”

“We’ve learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic nationally on the importance of laboratory tests, and the team did an amazing job to get this test live so quickly. The availability of a test at VUMC will enable us to not only treat patients as effectively as possible but also help mitigate the spread of this virus.”

“We are proud to be on the front lines of laboratory medicine doing our part to combat this global outbreak,” said Gaston.

VUMC patients who meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eligible criteria to be tested for monkeypox should talk to their medical provider about obtaining a test.

Testing is not available without a referral by a VUMC provider. At this time, VUMC does not recommend that individuals come to the emergency department for monkeypox testing.

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