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Ontario speeds up West Nile virus laboratory testing


Toronto, ON May 8, 2003 The Ontario government today unveiled more of its plan for tracking the West Nile virus and testing those affected by it.

Improvements to the province’s laboratories will include:

– Hiring 26 new staff around the province in order to accommodate up to 400 tests per day;
– Expanding the existing laboratory space and adding new equipment so that both preliminary and confirmation testing for the virus can be performed; and
– Sending two staff to Health Canada’s National Microbiological Laboratory in Winnipeg for training on the new tests being done in Ontario.

Ontario’s Central Public Health Laboratory in Etobicoke has expanded its capacity to ensure that all West Nile virus (WNv) testing can be done within the province.

Certification is currently underway in order to allow the laboratory to conduct the tests. The new equipment to be purchased will be added within the newly certified areas of the lab.

Laboratory testing for WNv uses blood or cerebral spinal fluid to detect antibodies to WNv. One set of tests screens for antibodies and a second set, which takes longer, confirms that antibodies are specific to the WNv.

Results will now take about three days, compared to the several weeks it took last year when the tests were done at the Health Canada laboratory in Winnipeg.

Funding for the plans unveiled today is being drawn from the previously announced $100 million budgeted over the next five years for fighting the virus. In addition, on April 8, Health Minister Tony Clement announced $7 million to help local public health units with their 2003 mosquito control activities.

The funding is also being used to track the virus for example, $200,000 has been granted so far this year to the laboratory of entomologist Dr Fiona Hunter at Brock University in order to conduct mosquito testing.

Today’s announcement is part of the government’s seven-point action plan to combat WNv, which also includes:
– Enhancing surveillance;
– Launching an extensive public education campaign;
– Mosquito control activities;
– Establishing a new early warning system;
– Conducting a pilot study to determine how many people have been exposed to WNv; and
– Funding on-going research to discover the best way to fight the virus.