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Non-contact fever screening test found to be safe and effective for suspected H1N1 cases

Category: Infectious Diseases

Although reports of positive H1N1 tests have remained relatively low over the past few months, health officials recently warned that the U.S. could experience another wave of swine flu activity in the coming weeks. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the majority of flu cases for the week of March 7-13 were caused by the 2009 H1N1 virus. In an effort to continue to control the pandemic, researchers have been working to develop safe and effective testing options to help diagnose the virus at its earliest stage.

Similar to other influenza viruses, H1N1 is typically spread by person-to-person contact through the coughing or sneezing of infected people. While most patients only experience moderate symptoms, some will suffer from severe fever, nausea, diarrhea, muscle aches and acute respiratory problems, which often lead to pneumonia and significant breathing difficulties.

People at the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill include diabetics, asthmatics, senior citizens and young children. The CDC reports that approximately 10,000 deaths occurred in the U.S. alone in 2009 due to the virus.

The organization also strongly recommends that people get vaccinated as soon as possible, while H1N1 is relatively dormant. Last month, officials with the CDC said that while approximately 60 million Americans have received the vaccine, a total of 136 million doses are still available.

"I am concerned that people may think this is all over," said Dr Anne Schuchat, of the CDC, quoted by CNN. "I would hate for people to make decisions thinking there is no risk and then get sick or severely ill…I think complacency is probably our top enemy right now."

To help control the spread of the virus, researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center recently validated an Infrared Thermal Detection System (ITDS) test, which can be used as a fast and effective fever screening tool for clinicians during an H1N1 outbreak.

During the height of the H1N1 pandemic, between November 18, 2009 and January 9, 2010, lead study author Angela Hewlett and her colleagues evaluated the OptoTherm ThermoScreen in the emergency department of the university's medical center.

The ITDS is capable of detecting fever in patients through split-second, non-contact skin temperature measurements, making it ideal for diagnosing symptoms related to H1N1, SARS and avian influenza. The innovative test utilizes a thermal imaging camera to measure the infrared energy being emitted from a patient's face.

Although the device has been used in countries around the world to screen travelers before passage, the research team looked to examine the effectiveness of the system in a clinical setting.

In the study, Hewlett and her colleagues measured the temperature of patients who were admitted to the hospital with flu-like symptoms with the ITDS as well as oral or rectal thermometers.

Following three months of study, the investigators found that the ITDS effectively identified patients with a fever over 100.0°F. However, while the system was highly successful recognizing fever in seriously ill patients, it also generated some false positive results. Overall, the diagnostic test was 97 percent sensitive.

"The purpose of fever screening is to protect patients," said Hewlett, who is an assistant professor of infectious diseases at UNMC.

"This technology allows clinicians to rapidly screen people for fever, so that incoming patients and visitors who may be ill can be identified quickly and reduce the danger of spreading diseases like influenza to other people in the hospital," she added.

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