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Busy Microbiology Labs Can Detect Infectious Diseases And Biological Threats Faster. Here’s How.

Person in a hazmat suit working in a laboratory setting
Photo by Satheesh Sankaran on Unsplash

 

written by Chandana Balasubramanian

 

Could your patient have kissed a camel recently? A new patient may have fallen ill after indulging in a little ‘tari’ (fermented date palm sap) in Southeast Asia. Or could your hospital be in the midst of a Candida Auris outbreak – the multi-drug resistant, severe-illness causing, and often-misidentified yeast?  

When you need to identify an unknown pathogen or biothreat agent, as the title song of the movie ‘Ghostbusters’ goes, “Who you gonna call?” If you’re in Maryland, Sheryl Stuckey and her clinical microbiology lab at the Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, may be the help you need.

 

The system has been helpful in preparing continuing education for my team.  It helps us with unusual organisms and steering us toward possibilities when people have traveled or reside in other countries.”

Sheryl Stuckey, Manager, Microbiology Lab
Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

 

Accuracy and Efficiency: Challenges of a Busy Clinical Microbiology Lab 

Running a Full-Fledged Lab 

Led by Sheryl Stuckey, the Microbiology lab at the Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Maryland, has to run with a high level of efficiency. It is usually abuzz with energy from handling a wide range of tasks for the hospital and external agencies. Although the hospital is a community hospital with 450+ beds, it serves patients from all over the world. Even the staff is diverse and represents over 80 countries. But that’s not all. 

Expert in Infectious Diseases and Pathogens 

Sheryl faces an added layer of responsibility – she is the lab tech for clinical microbiology in her hospital, and no one else in her chain of command knows this diagnostic area. Hospitalists (physicians who specialize in treating hospitalized patients) often reach out to Sheryl for help with identifying or confirming a pathogen diagnosis. 

For example, she recently helped a hospitalist identify MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, also known as ‘camel flu’). While the physician suspected something else, the microbiology lab suggested checking for the patient’s travel history. Says Sheryl, “He hadn’t thought to ask, and when he did, he learned that she had traveled to the Middle East and kissed a camel. Crazy, right?”

 

Image: GIDEON database MERS worldwide distribution notes. Copyright © GIDEON Informatics, Inc
Image: GIDEON database MERS worldwide distribution notes. Copyright © GIDEON Informatics, Inc

 

Sentinel Clinical Lab for Biothreat Agents 

The Holy Cross Hospital microbiology lab is also a certified Sentinel Clinical lab to assess suspected agents of bioterrorism, special pathogens, and emerging infectious diseases for their county [1]. The lab packages and ships potential and actual biothreat specimens to the Maryland State Laboratory for special pathogens, surveillance organisms (like COVID-19, Auris, CREs, and more). The lab offers guidance on what specimens to collect and how to collect them safely. The CDC states that Sentinel Laboratories “play a key role in the early detection of biological agents.”  

Partners with Automated Laboratory Team 

The lab is also PPE buddies for their Automated Laboratory Partners for routine testing for potentially infectious pathogens and Person Under Investigation (PUI) for a special pathogen. The PPE buddy system ensures that lab members look out for each other and follow all recommended safety protocols when dealing with infectious (or potentially infectious) pathogens. 

There is little room for error when dealing with infectious diseases, special pathogens, and potential biological threats. Early and accurate detection is critical to prevent or mitigate outbreaks and more widespread devastation.

 

Using GIDEON for Accurate and Timely Detection of Infectious Diseases and Biological Threats

 

“I rely on this program because it has everything I need in a pinch.” 

– Sheryl Stuckey

 

For Microbiology Labs

The Holy Cross Hospital Microbiology Lab appreciates the vast resources that GIDEON offers. GIDEON – the Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Online Network – is a preferred partner for microbiology labs worldwide. 

About GIDEON, Sheryl states, “My favorite features are the organism identification function, information about diseases, comparison of organisms, and now the flowchart function.” She adds, “The system has been helpful in preparing continuing education for my team.  It helps us with unusual organisms and steering us toward possibilities when people have traveled or reside in other countries.”

Designed together with microbiology experts, GIDEON’s lab resources can help:

  • Identify 2000+ pathogens with a few clicks,
  • Generate a ranked pathogen probability list based on Bayesian analysis-based differential analysis,
  • View detailed pathogen outbreak maps, and
  • Elevate training to include dynamic step-by-step decision trees for unknown bacteria projects.

 

Image: GIDEON microbiology lab diagnosis probability engine and unknown pathogen decision tree. Copyright © GIDEON Informatics, Inc
Image: GIDEON microbiology lab diagnosis probability engine and unknown pathogen decision tree. Copyright © GIDEON Informatics, Inc

 

For Physicians and Researchers 

An added bonus for hospitals, research hospitals, and teaching institutions is that GIDEON is the most comprehensive database of historical and current infectious disease outbreaks worldwide. Healthcare professionals and researchers can save a lot of time by using the GIDEON one-stop resource for infectious disease and epidemiology research

 

Conclusion

The GIDEON infectious disease database empowers microbiology labs, hospitals, physicians, and researchers to identify and detect pathogens early and more accurately. 

The platform hosts a wide variety of tools to help busy microbiology labs compare pathogens, analyze the epidemiological impact of patients’ travel histories, use probability engines and decision trees for pathogens and unknown bacteria, mycobacteria, and yeasts.

 

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References

[1]  ASM (American Society for Microbiology), “Laboratory Response Network (LRN) Sentinel Level Clinical Laboratory Protocols,” 20 11 2013. [Online]. Available: https://asm.org/Articles/Policy/Laboratory-Response-Network-LRN-Sentinel-Level-C. [Accessed 2021 08 16].

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