Machine helps detect infectious diseases faster, leading to faster treatment


The GeneXpert dramatically shortens a weeks-long process

MERCED, California — Infectious diseases in Merced County are being identified at a faster rate all thanks to a new machine in the county’s public health laboratory.

The GeneXpert takes samples from doctors and hospitals and identifies infectious diseases. Those it can identify include influenza, norovirus, even Ebola. Depending on the disease it’s looking for, results can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours.

Before this, the public health lab would have to send samples away to another lab. So, the GeneXpert allows them to do everything in-house.

“We’re the only full-time laboratory in the region, so, what [the GeneXpert] gives us the capability to do is detect pathogens very quickly. Get answers out,” said Dr. Morris Jones.

Faster results means faster treatment.

“If it’s a yes, [for example] the person has tuberculosis, then that person [transitions from quarantine to isolation],” Jones said. “If there’s a negative result, the person that was in quarantine [is taken out] and they can go about living their lives.”

Last month, the public health department received accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board. It’s the only Central Valley county to have this recognition.

Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp, the department’s director, said the accreditation opens more doors for things like funding. This means the GeneXpert is only the beginning.

“We’re going to be taking a look and seeing how it is we can go from great to even greater — as a public health department and as a community,” Nanyonjo-Kemp said.

The public health department got the GeneXpert with the help of a grant from the Merced County Office of Emergency Services.

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