The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today that they currently have a backlog of some 1,000 samples to be tested for Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) received since mid-September.

To tackle that issue, the federal health agency announced that starting today, a new, faster EV-D68 test, developed by the CDC will be implemented in the laboratory testing.

The new lab test is a “real-time” reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, or rRT-PCR, and it identifies all strains of EV-D68 that we have been seeing this summer and fall. The new test has fewer and shorter steps than the test that CDC and some states were using for the EV-D68 outbreak.

Also, the new test allows more specimens to be tested at the same time. The previous test, which CDC used for about nine years,  is very sensitive and can be used to detect and identify almost all enteroviruses; however, it requires multiple, labor-intensive processing steps and cannot be easily scaled up to support testing of large numbers of specimens in real time that is needed for the current EV-D68 outbreak.

“CDC has received substantially more specimens for enterovirus lab testing than usual this year, due to the large outbreak of EV-D68 and related hospitalizations,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “When rare or uncommon viruses suddenly begin causing severe illness, CDC works quickly to develop diagnostic tests to enhance our response and investigations. This new lab test will reduce what would normally take several weeks to get results to a few days.”

CDC expects to complete testing of the remaining specimens that were received since mid-September within about seven to 10 days; going from testing about 40 specimens per day to testing up to 180 per day.

The CDC says because of the new procedure, the number of confirmed EV-D68 cases will likely increase substantially in the coming days. These increases will not reflect changes in real time or mean the situation is getting worse.

From mid-August to October 14, 2014, CDC or state public health laboratories have confirmed a total of 691 people from 46 states and the District of Columbia with respiratory illness caused by EV-D68. The four states without a confirmed case include Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona and Nevada.

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