Strengthening the diagnostic capacity to detect Bio Safety Level 3 organisms in unusual respiratory viral outbreaks
Background: Experience with a highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in the Netherlands (2003) illustrated that the diagnostic demand for respiratory viruses at different biosafety levels (including BSL3), can increase unexpectedly and dramatically. Objectives: We describe the measures taken since, aimed at strengthening national laboratory surge capacity and improving preparedness for dealing with diagnostic demand during outbreaks of (emerging) respiratory virus infections, including pandemic influenza virus. Study design: Academic and peripheral medical-microbiological laboratories collaborated to determine minimal laboratory requirements for the identification of viruses in the early stages of a pandemic or a large outbreak of avian influenza virus. Next, an enhanced collaborative national network of outbreak assistance laboratories (OAL) was set up. An inventory was made of the maximum diagnostic throughput that this network can deliver in a period of intensified demand. For an estimate of the potential magnitude of this surge demand, historical counts were calculated from hospital- and physician-based registries of patients presenting with respiratory symptoms. Results: Number of respiratory physician-visits ranged from 140,000 to 615,000 per month and hospitalizations ranged from 3000 to 11,500 per month. The established OAL-network provides rapid diagnostic response with agreed quality requirements and a maximum throughput capacity of 1275 samples/day (38,000 per month), assuming other routine diagnostic work needs to be maintained. Conclusions: Thus surge demand for diagnostics for hospitalized cases (if not distinguishable from other respiratory illness) could be handled by the OAL network. Assessing etiology of community acquired acute respiratory infection however, may rapidly exceed the capacity of the network. Therefore algorithms are needed for triaging for laboratory diagnostics; currently this is not addressed in pandemic preparedness plans.