Guest Editorial: Surge of WNV Strains Labs

A 20% surge in the demand for the treatment of West Nile Vrus (WNV) occurred in August. Consequently, it has brought a corresponding increase in issues related to lags in turnaround time because of delays in reagent availability at testing facilities and staffing training.

Since West Nile is an uncommon virus, many facilities are not prepared for this challenge, including manufacturing plants for reagents and supplies for treating patients. The shortage of laboratory professionals becomes more apparent when a virus has an unexpected surge. A growing laboratory workforce shortage presents a problem for a society as a whole because 70% of physicians' decisions are based on the laboratory outcome.

The added demand for WNV testing and foodborne outbreaks presents an additional level of complexity to already dwindling manpower. The laboratory staff has to work more overtime hours to reduce wait time. This approach has its limitations because the individuals who perform these vital tasks cannot continuously perform under such stressful conditions.  

The availability of reasonably priced, low complexity, rapid PCR assays on random access platforms has had a very positive impact on the quality of laboratory diagnostic services. Molecular nongrowth dependent technology enables laboratories to provide highly sensitive and specific results round the clock for an increasing variety of dangerous pathogens that during earlier times could take days or weeks to detect and report.

It is critical to seek and select technological applications that eliminate cumbersome, inefficient time and labor-intensive processes. Developing educational and training programs with lab programs is another important step in the ability to select and hire much needed laboratory professionals.

The ASCP is working on several solutions to attract students and second careerists to become lab professionals. The ASCP Career Ambassador program sponsored by Roche, for example, promotes the profession to junior high, high school and junior college students nationwide. Additionally, ASCP has a network of regional and local representatives who attend career fairs and Science Technology Engineering and Math forums. The organization also has partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative America and several state universities of New York to increase the number of graduates.

Irina Lutinger, MPH, M(ASCP), H(ASCP) DLM, FACHE, Senior Administrative Director at New York University Hospitals Center, New York City

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