of Virus Reference Laboratory
is the Virus Reference Laboratory?
The Virus Reference Laboratory provides a national
diagnostic service for Ireland, using a wide range of methods to identify viral
infections in humans and to determine anti-viral immune status (our immunity
to viruses). It is situated on campus at University College Dublin (UCD) and
is closely linked to the Colleges
Department of Medical Microbiology.
is the role of the Virus Reference Laboratory?
If you attend your doctor with a suspected infectious
illness they may take a sample or swab which may then be sent to the Virus Reference
Laboratory in order to determine what sort of infection you might have. Samples
that might be tested include blood, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from your spine,
faeces, urine, respiratory secretions, nose and throat swabs, eye swabs, skin
lesions, and autopsy and biopsy specimens.
The amount of virus in your system is generally
at a maximum at or shortly before the appearance of symptoms. Specimens for
virus testing should therefore be collected and sent as soon as possible after
the onset of symptoms.
The Virus Reference Laboratory is also the national
flu centre, where scientists and laboratory technicians collect information
about any new or variant strains of flu detected and send this information to
the World Health Organisation, which then confirms the results. This is very
important as it ensures that new strains of flu virus are identified immediately
and vaccines can be prepared in time so that outbreaks of flu can be prevented.
The laboratory also provides a weekly communicable
disease report (report on the diseases that can be passed on from a person,
animal or the environment to a susceptible person).
It details significant test results obtained
on specimens received in the Virus Reference Laboratory during the preceding
week. These might include HIV, rubella, mumps, measles, flu and hepatitis A,
B and C test results, for example.
This weekly data is provisional, however. It is
merely intended to provide a rapid means of alerting public health officials
and clinicians to infections prevalent in the community.
The VRL also provides an out-of-hours service for:
- testing organ donors for the HIV antibody
- vaccinating healthcare workers following needlestick
injury for HIV antibody and hepatitis B
- Certain virus testing for dialysis patients
and immuno-compromised patients (those with reduced resistance to infection).
The VRL is specifically concerned with the production
and maintenance of cell cultures (growing of cells in vitro) for use in viral
isolation (detecting viruses).
blood tests are carried out at the Virus Reference Laboratory?
There are many tests carried out at the Virus Reference
Laboratory. Some of the more familiar tests include:
- Detection of rising antibodies
Certain blood tests carried out at the Laboratory
are based on the reaction between antibodies and antigens. They are used either
to detect antibodies (blood proteins that counteract the effects of some invading
infections) or detect antigens (a substance, such as a bacteria, that causes
antibodies to be produced).
It takes time for a person to build up antibodies
to an invading infection or disease, however. Antibodies are specific to the
infection and a rise in their number indicates that the person has developed
that particular infection.
Therefore these tests play an important role in
the management of viral infections, as they can be used to make the diagnosis
even when it is impossible to isolate the virus.
- Determination of immune status
This involves screening a persons blood sample
for certain antibodies which, if present, indicate that the person is immune
to that infection, eg. a blood test to determine immunity to rubella.
- Determination of exposure to a virus
The detection of antibodies for viruses in the
blood sample indicates that the person has been infected with a given virus.
For example, a person with HIV can be tested for antibodies to that virus which,
if present, indicate that the person has been exposed to it.
much does sample testing cost?
It is estimated that the cost of testing a sample
is about IR£30, including such costs as the technicians time, for example.
Certain tests, notably HIV antibody tests, are charged for when carried out
for commercial purposes. Examples include tests for insurance, visa and employment
purposes. The current fee for a HIV test under these circumstances is IR£15.
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