Meeting with the HPA

The functions of the Health protection Agency (HPA) Lyme Borreliosis Unit are being transferred from Southampton to the Rare & Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL)* at HPA Porton which already has considerable experience in testing for other tick borne pathogens, in particular Rickettsia and Coxiella (Q fever).

On May 1st two of LDA’s trustees spent a very productive day at Porton discussing the move with Dr Tim Brooks, Consultant Medical Microbiologist and his staff.

The RIPL is intending to improve the information on the Lyme Borreliosis web pages and Dr Brooks has asked for input from LDA to help in compiling a set of frequently asked questions and answers. The team has also agreed to participate in LDA’s James Lind Alliance PSP documenting the uncertainties in Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment and to involve LDA in research that it is hoped will be undertaken in due course.

It will take the RIPL some time to fully take over: the team needs to be able to handle more than 1,000 Lyme disease tests a month and considerably more during the approaching peak months. The current plan is to start testing at Porton at the beginning of June.

The reference laboratory will run the same C6 ELISA from Immunetics. The immunoblot, however, is to be a mechanised strip blot from a German company, Viramed Biotech, which means the result will no longer depend on subjective, manual reading. This test is designed for use in Europe and is based predominantly (though not exclusively) on the highly antigenic Pko strain of Borrelia afzelii.

Patients need to be aware that the staff at the RIPL will not take phone calls from patients about test results – all requests for information need to come from the patient’s doctor as the HPA has a policy of not revealing confidential information about patients in response to an unverifiable phone call.

The HPA and LDA aim to work together as much as is possible and this first meeting was a very good start. It has been agreed that a second meeting will be convened for 6 months’ time to monitor progress.

*  The Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL) at HPA Microbiology Services Porton was known until Nov 2011 as the Special Pathogens Reference Unit (SPRU). From 2005 to 2009, SPRU operated as part of the Novel and Dangerous Pathogens Department at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPR), then later as part of the Medical Affairs department. RIPL now operates as part of the Specialist Microbiology Services subdivision of HPA Microbiology Services.

RIPL provides a clinical diagnostic service for rare and/or imported pathogens like pathogenic arboviruses, haemorrhagic fever viruses and a number of Hazard Group 3 bacterial pathogens including rickettsiae, Coxiella burneti and Bacillus anthracis.