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Microbiologist contributes to monkeypox virus testing

21552-Relich, Ryan

21552-Relich, Ryan

While identified cases of monkeypox trending across the U.S. are far lower now than when cases spiked significantly from mid-July to mid-August, Indiana residents can find some security in knowing that one of the main testing sites for the highly infectious disease is being done at Indiana University Health in a bio-secure lab.

“This means that patients won’t have to wait as long for their test results on monkeypox,” said Ryan Relich, PhD, associate professor of clinical pathology and laboratory medicine at IU School of Medicine.

Relich is also the medical director for the Division of Clinical Microbiology at IU Health. He said the current test capacity of the lab is 500 samples per day. Turn-around times for results have improved since the lab was opened, going from 8-14 days to now only 24-48 hours to get results.

The lab has tested over 200 specimens, which does not necessarily mean over 200 patients, Relich said. The testing is available to all IU Health hospitals, clinics, and affiliated care providers, as well as non-IU Health clients who use IU Health for clinical laboratory testing.

The testing lab is located at the IU Health pathology laboratory in downtown Indianapolis. The “enhanced biosafety” features mean scientists have a dedicated room to handle only monkeypox samples. It has a self-closing door and is under negative air pressure – pulling air into the room to minimize the chances of other infectious materials drifting through the air and out of the room.

Scientists can deactivate the virus prior to removal of the samples from the containment room and prior to DNA extraction and real-time testing of the samples for the monkeypox virus, according to Relich, an American Board of Medical Microbiology-certified medical microbiologist who has a passion for diagnostic microbiology and laboratory medicine.

Relich’s work in the lab on this emerging virus is putting Indiana ahead of the curve on viral testing. He is also assisting other medical centers outside of Indiana with test validation and identifying patients in need of medical care due to the virus. There are currently very few facilities able to process and handle monkeypox specimens; IU Health is the only laboratory in the state of Indiana performing the testing.

To date, there have been 27,468 reported cases of monkeypox nationwide and two deaths, according to the CDC website.