As swine flu teeters on the verge of becoming a pandemic, Canada is at the forefront in testing for the respiratory illness.

Mexican health officials have sent their Canadian counterparts pleas for assistance, first asking for help in determining the nature of the illness in the early stages of the outbreak and now asking Canada to help test their viral samples.

“Overall I think in Canada we’re doing pretty well,” said Dr. Michael Gardam, the director of infectious diseases at the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion.

“Despite the initial scrambling that happens with something like this … we have come so far in a week, it is really remarkable.”

The National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg is at the helm of testing in Canada as the country’s leading public health infectious disease laboratory. But with Canadian cases of swine flu popping up from coast to coast, provincial public health laboratories are also involved in the urgent effort to identify swine flu cases.

A swab is taken through the nose from the area of the upper throat behind the nose.

It is then shipped off to a lab.

The whole process from swab to swine flu diagnosis can take anywhere from one to five days, according to officials in several provinces.

Officials in Ontario are asking doctors and hospitals to send swabs directly to the provincial lab.
The PCR test the Ontario lab is currently using can show if the virus is influenza A, but not if it is the H1N1 strain.

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