Lab at Tampa General Hospital tracking spread of COVID-19 variants

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — We’re getting a behind the scenes look at one of the biggest tools in the fight against the coronavirus here in Tampa Bay.

A clinical and research lab inside Tampa General Hospital has been testing viruses found in patients and identifying which variant is showing up.

“We work with very specialized techniques, molecular techniques,” said Dr. Suzane Silbert, the scientific director of Tampa General Hospital’s Esoteric Research Lab.

In late 2020, while the world was catching up with commercial testing, scientists at the lab learned they could use their next generation sequencer to find out which variant of the virus patients had. They quickly upgraded to bigger machines, which increased testing capacity by more than 500%.

Dr. Seetha Lakshmi, an infectious disease physician at USF and TGH said a major focus of the lab is to “understand where the virus is going and what we need to do next.”

Once doctors know where the virus is heading, they can alert local health leaders and hospital officials about unusual trends.

The first confirmed case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Florida was reported at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. Although TGH has not reported any cases of the new strain, doctors are bracing for the variant to show up at the lab.

“I don’t know if I’m nervous, but I won’t lie, we’re all a little anxious,” said Dr. Silbert. “I’m also confident that if it is here we’ll know what to do because we’ve learned a lot in the last two years, and I think we are prepared.”

The hope is that the lab will become a world-class center that’s prepared for future, evolving threats to humanity.

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