Quest and LabCorp won't accept blood samples from suspected Ebola patients

Quest Diagnostics ($DGX) and LabCorp ($LH), two of the biggest laboratory diagnostics outfits around, will not accept any blood samples from patients suspected of having the Ebola virus.

CBS4 in Denver recently reported the Quest news on its website, which stems from an Oct. 11 message Quest sent to hospitals and doctors. Quest also said it won't "knowingly" let any patients who doctors think may have Ebola into their laboratory offices, according to the story.

LabCorp issued its own announcement on Oct. 10, urging doctors not to submit blood specimens from patients suspected of having Ebola.

"LabCorp does not test specimens to rule out [Ebola]. Do not submit specimens to LabCorp for any testing ... from patients suspected for [Ebola]" until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention completes testing and rules out the deadly virus, the company said in its statement.

LabCorp also explained that doctors with patients suspected of having Ebola should consult the CDC first to assess symptoms and risk factors. If those suspicions remain, LabCorp said doctors should then contact their state public health laboratory for more instructions, after which "specimens from the patient for diagnostic testing for Ebola virus would then be collected and sent by you to a specified laboratory as directed by the public health laboratory."

Quest spokesperson Wendy Horst confirmed Quest's action with CBS4, telling the news station that the company "informed clinicians that Quest Diagnostics does not provide Ebola testing and that we recommend that they refer to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about testing for this virus in the United States."

An expert in preventative medicine is quoted by CBS4 as saying that the action made sense, in part because typical blood-diagnostic protocols aren't designed to handle Ebola samples. As well, the expert referred to Quest's response to Ebola as a "prudent" move to protect its staff.

The same could arguably be said about LabCorp's action.

On the other hand, genuine concern about Ebola in the U.S. and other parts of the world has competed in equal measure with downright hysteria, even as cases of the Ebola virus remain mostly concentrated in West Africa.

Ebola has so far affected several thousand people in West Africa, but only a handful of patients in the United States and Spain. Of that number, one person died of Ebola in a Texas hospital after becoming the first person diagnosed with the virus in the U.S. Two of his caregivers have contracted Ebola, leading to close monitoring of a few dozen people who interacted with the affected caregivers.

That makes Quest's and LabCorp's policy moves all the more dramatic, since combined they run thousands of service centers and process blood work for a large number of U.S. patients.

Some will likely be reassured by Quest and LabCorp's actions. Others may see them as an "abundance of caution" that borders on overreaction. We will see in the months ahead which assessment proves to be right.

- read the CBS4 story for more about Quest
- here's LabCorp's statement

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