As fears of a bird-flu pandemic mount, the need to be able to identify outbreaks as well as individual cases of the disease immediately has never been more necessary. Thus, health officials are welcoming news from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that a new test for detecting strains of bird flu in humans has been approved by the FDA.
The test is designed to detect the presence of strains of Asian H5 flu within four hours as opposed to the two to three days that it now takes to get results with the current testing system.
The new test, called the Influenza A/H5 (Asian lineage) Virus Real-time RT-PCR Primer and Probe Set, was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
One subtype of the Asian H5 flu (H5N1) has already been responsible for 86 human deaths in Asia and Turkey.
While more than 50% of all the people who have contracted the H5N1 strain have died, almost all of those cases involved exposure to infected poultry and not the far more dangerous human-to-human transmission that could trigger a pandemic.
The test will allow doctors and scientists to stay on top of the constantly changing strains of influenza viruses. It will be distributed to about 140 laboratories in all 50 states to help enhance early detection and increase laboratory response capacity.
According to Mike Leavitt, the Secretary for Health and Human Services, the new test is Ã¢â‚¬Å“a major step forward in our ability to more quickly detect cases of H5 avian influenza and proves additional safeguards to protect the public.Ã¢â‚¬Â