Jelena Feenstra, PhD, is senior manager for global scientific communications at Thermo Fisher Scientific. She has extensive diagnostic and research experience in genetics, cytogenetics, and genomics. Jelena is currently working toward democratizing molecular testing globally.
Q: What does the fall cold and flu season look like now that COVID-19 is established in the viral ecosystem?
A: Public health countermeasures for SARS-CoV-2 have also reduced the circulation of other respiratory viruses. There is a concern that since people were not exposed to these infections (like the flu) over the last few years, and with relaxed COVID-19 measures, the circulation of respiratory viruses could return to pre-pandemic levels and cause more widespread disease. There has already been a surge of respiratory infections, occurring outside of their expected season, and with less predictable strains.
Q: What is the role of multiplex testing in differentiating infections with overlapping symptoms?
A: It is difficult to diagnose viral respiratory illnesses based on symptoms alone. Multiplex testing enables an accurate diagnosis of underlying infections that clinicians can use to make informed decisions for patient management, including the need for isolation and appropriate medications. Multiplex testing can also identify coinfections, which potentially have worse prognosis and need to be managed differently than single pathogen infections. Lastly, testing helps identify outbreaks, informing public health measures to prevent viral spread, particularly in hospitals and long-term care settings.
Q: How do the targets included in the TaqPath Respiratory Viral Select Panel benefit labs and their patients?
A: The TaqPath Respiratory Viral Select Panel can be used to test for the adenovirus, human metapneumovirus, rhinovirus/enterovirus, and parainfluenza virus. The panel is easy to implement and has a fast turnaround time of less than three hours, enabling treatment in a timely manner.
Between this kit and another multiplex diagnostic kit that covers SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Thermo Fisher’s multiplex PCR approach allows for simultaneous testing for the most common respiratory viral illnesses in a single patient sample, while testing up to 94 samples at a time. In the current reimbursement landscape, it is also more cost-effective for labs to run these limited panels instead of broader syndromic panels.
Q: How are multiplex testing panels beneficial when testing high-risk patients?
A: High-risk patients, such as those who are immunocompromised, the elderly, and children, are individuals at risk of coinfections and severe disease or complications. qPCR-based multiplex testing is highly sensitive and takes only a few hours, enabling quick but accurate clinical decision-making in a patient population that is most likely to require specialized treatment.
Q: What other disease areas are gaining traction with molecular diagnostics?
A: Other than respiratory illnesses, there is a demand for molecular diagnostics for infectious diseases, such as diarrheal diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, and urinary tract infections. qPCR testing is faster and more sensitive than standard culture tests. This is particularly important when dealing with infectious diseases like monkeypox, which has reached more than 38,000 cases worldwide as of August 2022. At Thermo Fisher, we immediately responded by designing an assay that public health labs can use for monkeypox surveillance.