UNC debuts state's first in-house monkeypox test, reducing result wait times

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ByJoel Brown via WTVD logo
Thursday, August 11, 2022
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Monkeypox testing is now available at all UNC Health locations. Because of the new in-house lab, patients can expect results within 24 hours.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- UNC Hospital offered the first glimpse inside its clinical microbiology lab at UNC Medical Center since the development of North Carolina's first-ever hospital in-house monkeypox testing lab.

"We have a long history of doing this," said the lab's director, Dr. Melissa Miller, whose team is working to do the same thing with monkeypox testing that it did with SARS, MERS, Zika and COVID- 19. They've developed an in-house test to avoid sending samples to outside labs--where results can take days to come back.

"Before we were sending our testing to a reference laboratory, so it was taking about three to five days," said Miller. "Now, it's about 24 hours or less."

Back in March 2020, ABC11 toured Miller's lab as they wrapped development of an in-house test for COVID-19--just as the pandemic triggered a global shutdown and demand for tests shot through the roof.

"It's not the volume that's driving us doing the testing, like back in COVID, she said. "It was like we needed to do a lot more tests. So we brought in testing."

For its monkeypox tests, Miller said 25% to 40% are coming back positive. It sounds high, but Miller said the lab is only testing around 10 to 15 specimens a day.

What is certain is the numbers are a sign of under-testing. More people need to get checked for monkeypox.

"I anticipate the volume to go up some. As word gets out, people are more likely to go get tested if they know that within a day they're going to get a result. But we're not going to see COVID numbers," Miller said.

Monkeypox testing is now available at all UNC Health locations: the hospitals, urgent cares, and all of the clinics. Because of the new in-house lab, patients can expect results within 24 hours.