CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — The state health department reports 114 cases of monkeypox in North Carolina, and doctors say diagnosing the illness quickly is key to slowing the spread. Now, UNC has developed a test that can be done right in the hospital’s lab, and doctors say it can reduce the time it takes to get results.
The director of the Clinical Microbiology Lab at UNC Medical Center, Dr. Melissa Miller and her team have developed tests for COVID and other viruses. When monkeypox cases started increasing, they quickly got to work.
“We decided pretty quickly we probably needed to offer the testing in-house,” she explained.
Now, she says UNC has the first hospital lab in the state to offer in-house monkeypox testing.
The test UNC developed works the same way as other monkeypox tests, by swabbing lesions. Dr. Miller says the difference is how quickly they can get results by using their own lab. For the last week, the tests have been available at UNC Health locations.
“All of our urgent cares, all of our clinics, all of our affiliate hospitals can send testing to us,” she noted. “As soon as we get it, we have results in about 24 hours.”
Most other facilities have to send tests to an outside lab.
“When we were sending out to a reference laboratory, we were seeing between three and five-day turnaround time, no testing done on the weekend,” said Miller. “We turn it around in the same day and we’re even testing on the weekends, so patients are able to get their results sooner and either relax a little bit or know they have a longer isolation in front of them.”
It also means people who test positive can quickly alert others who may have been exposed.
“The faster the better, then you can get the contacts traced and get information to those individuals,” Miller said.
People who test positive can get a vaccine, which may keep them from getting sick. According to the CDC, the sooner after exposure they get the shot, the more likely it is to prevent illness.
Right now Dr. Miller says UNC is doing about 10 tests a day, but they have the capacity to do about 100 a day, if needed.
Monkeypox tests are also available at county health departments and other health care facilities, but the results may take longer to get.