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City's Health Lab Now Equipped to Test H1N1

Monday, May 04, 2009

At the city’s health lab, scientists and technicians have been working almost around the clock to determine whether strains of flu circulating might be H1N1, or swine flu. Officials opened the doors to the lab yesterday for a rare glimpse of how the system works. WNYC’s Fred Mogul has more.

REPORTER: The lab will take a big leap forward this week, when it gets the CDC's strain-specific re-agents, or chemicals, necessary to confirm that samples contain H1N1. Currently, local scientists can make a pretty good guess, but only the CDC can verify the genetic fingerprint of the new strain of flu. Lab chief Sarah Beatrice says sending virus samples by courier to the CDC slows things down.

BEATRICE: There can be a day or more before they’re able to give us an answer, whereas we can certainly cut down on the time it’s required to travel to Atlanta.

For much of the last week, Health Department teams worked until 3.30am, processing tests. Samples can take five-and-a-half hours each. Currently, there are 62 confirmed cases and 17 considered probable. All are being described as mild, and almost all have been linked to St. Francis Prep School, in Queens. For WNYC, I’m Fred Mogul.

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