While COVID-19 seems to be dominating just about everything, it’s not the only virus infecting Wichitans. Influenza and RSV seasons are beginning to ramp up.
In an effort to meet community needs, Wichita State University’s Molecular Diagnostics Lab (MDL) has developed a test to detect all three viruses — RSV, influenza and COVID-19 (RIC) — from one nasal swab. The RIC test is available to all individuals and partners who test via the MDL.
“MDL exists to meet the needs of the community,” said Sarah Nickel, MDL technical director. “So as soon as the Sedgwick County Health Department told us there was a need, we worked on validating a test and getting it ready as soon as possible so that we could meet that need.”
In 2020, the flu season was largely diminished because of the rigorous health and safety protocols put in place in response to COVID-19, including mask mandates, social distancing requirements, remote schooling, and virtual work environments.
“I think it’s important that people know that influenza is actually a really serious virus,” Nickel said. “We skipped influenza season last year, so we’re a little unsure what that will look like this year and how bad people will get sick with it.”
RSV, she said, is a respiratory virus that most people get when they’re children, but it can be serious — and even life-threatening — in infants and the elderly.
“We’re all trying to get back to life. We’ve all gotten used to saying, ‘Do I have COVID or not?’,” Nickel said. “But if you’re sick, you still shouldn’t be going around other people. It’s nice to get tested and know what you have because it helps your family know what to do as well.”
Currently, the RIC test is only available through a nasal swab, but the MDL team is working on creating an equally effective saliva test.
“We have a research study we’re doing where we’re asking people who are sick to give us both salvia and let us swab them. It’s allowing us to see if we can detect the viruses as well on the saliva as we can on the swab,” Nickel said.
Dr. Mark Leiker, an MDL physician, said he believes that the lab plays a vital role in the community.
“From a public health standpoint, what WSU is doing is of utmost importance,” he said. “I believe that from a public health perspective, the first thing to do during a pandemic is to identify those who have the disease.”
The RIC test is 97% accurate, and the MDL can process as many as 32,000 specimens per week.
RIC tests are available at no cost to the public, and most results are available within 24 hours. Testing is available at the MDL on South Oliver and at the Sedgwick County Health Department.
The MDL, which opened in October 2020, was built in response to COVID-19 as a lab that could test large quantities of specimens with a short turnaround, allowing for precise quarantine and treatment of those infected and mitigating the spread of the virus.
“MDL lab has set a model for the future that will be valuable far beyond this pandemic,” Leiker said.