Highlights of the Annual Spring Meeting 2016

Tina M. Vellozzi PhD, D(ABMM)

Once again, this year’s May 6th Annual Meeting at The Hotel Pennsylvania was very well attended and proved to be in the best tradition of meetings organized by our Branch Program Committee. The morning program began with continental breakfast, followed by opening remarks by our Branch President, Dr. Audrey Schuetz, who welcomed the more than 300 attendees.

Dr. Anthony Tran, Director of Policy and Operations at the NYC Bureau of the Public Health Laboratory, in NY was the first speaker of the morning with his discussion of   “NYC DOH and MH PHL Response to “What Plagues the Big Apple”.  Dr. Tran gave an excellent overview of how The NYC Department of Health  and Mental Hygiene PHL has prepared and responded to recent outbreaks, such as the recent Ebola threat, and the South Bronx Legionella outbreak.  Of course with the summer approaching, Zika virus poses a new threat, and with current outbreaks of Zika virus in the Americas, cases among U.S. travelers will most likely increase. Imported cases may result in virus introduction and local spread in some areas of the U.S. The NYC DOH and MH is prepared to meet the testing needs of the community, and has recently established a Zika call center for healthcare providers where they can request virus testing and receive necessary assistance. The call center will streamline the testing process and allow providers to obtain testing results in an expedited fashion. In addition Dr. Tran also spoke about other NYC DOH and MH PHL initiatives on the horizon to combat outbreaks, such as a laboratory surveillance pilot study for Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae confirmation from Health and Hospital Corporation facilities.

The next speaker of the morning session was Dr. Michael A. Pfaller, Chief Medical Officer of T2 Biosystems, in Lexington, MA  and Professor Emeritus Departments of Pathology and Epidemiology, University of Iowa College of Medicine and College of Public Health whodiscussed the importance of antifungal stewardship programs and rapid diagnosis of nosocomial candidiasis.  Dr. Pfaller emphasized the clinical and economic impact of these infections, which places them among the most deadly and expensive hospital acquired infections encountered worldwide. Inappropriate use of antifungal agents exposes many uninfected patients to the expense and toxicity of unnecessary antifungal therapy, and directly contributes to an ever increasing burden of antifungal resistance. Dr. Pfaller indicated that treatment of Candida infections is almost always delayed by more than 24 hours which results in increased mortality and healthcare costs. Hence, antifungal stewardship aims to promote the optimal use of antifungals through the careful selection of agents based on patient profile, target organism, toxicity, costs and the likelihood of emergence and spread of resistance. Such implementation can achieve significant improvements in patient management and outcome, and may reduce costs in the long run.

After an opportunity to visit with our vendors and enjoy the exhibits, Dr. Maria Karlsson, Surveillance Activity Lead, Clinical and Environmental Microbiology Branch of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, GA concluded the morning program with a  talk entitled “Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE): The Superbug of the Decade”.  Dr. Karlsson reviewed the latest information regarding these organisms which pose a serious threat to public health. CRE infections  are on the increase, are difficult to treat, and in some cases are impossible to treat, and have been associated with mortality rates of up to 50%. She also spoke about some of the challenges of CRE detection in the laboratory, and some of the new testing approaches. Dr. Karlsson announced that the CDC  has  recently launched, for the first time, a web app called the Antibiotic Resistance Patient Safety Atlas. This is a public portal that allows users to visualize national, regional, and state-level antibiotic resistance data which are reported to CDC through the National Healthcare Safety Network. The CDC encourages the public, healthcare facility staff, as well as state, local, and federal public health authorities to explore the data for educational purposes, and to inform efforts to combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistance in healthcare facilities.

After a terrific morning session, everyone now gathered to enjoy a delicious luncheon and the Branch’s traditional annual awards presentations. We once again had the opportunity to pay special tribute to our sponsors who have so generously supported our educational programs throughout the years. It is their generous funding which make events such as our Annual Meeting possible.  “Congratulations and Thank You !” to both our Platinum Award Members: Alere, Becton Dickinson Diagnostics, BioFire Diagnostics, Inc., bioMerieux, Inc., Cepheid, and Roche Diagnostics Corporation and to our Gold Award Members: Abbott Molecular,AdvanDx, Beckman Coulter-Microscan, HOLOGIC Gen-Probe, Inc., Meridian Diagnostics, Quest Diagnostics, and Theravance Biopharma.

The clinical impact and Laboratory Diagnosis of  Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) was the subject matter of the afternoon’s speaker,  Dr. Phyllis Della-Latta, Professor  Emerita, Special Lecturer, Clinical Pathology and Cell Biology in Medicine, at Columbia University Medical Center in NY.  NTM are emergent pathogens with a growing impact on human health. As noted by Dr. Della-Latta, after being regarded mainly as etiological agents of opportunistic infections in immune compromised patients, they have now also been recognized as etiological agents of several infections in immune-competent individuals as well as healthcare-associated infections. Dr. Della- Latta indicated that NTM infections have now also become associated with cosmetic surgery. In particular there have been rapidly growing reports of NTM wound infections which have occurred among medical tourists seeking cheaper cosmetic surgical procedures in the Dominican Republic. Many of these returning tourists developed very serious infections, which are very difficult to treat and can spread and cause more severe illness.  The environmental nature of NTM and their ability to assemble as biofilms on surfaces, play a key role in their pathogenesis. In her excellent presentation, Dr. Della-Latta also presented the current issues with antimicrobic resistance and NTM laboratory diagnostic challenges.

The afternoon session ended with the interesting and challenging case presentations presented by Dr. Joseph Campos, Director, Microbiology, Molecular Diagnostics and Laboratory Informatics at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. This always informative and entertaining session gave the audience the opportunity to test their ability to identify the pathogens involved.

As the day’s program concluded, we all had another opportunity to visit with our many vendors and see their wonderful exhibits. It was now time to enjoy another much anticipated NYCASM tradition, the Reception and Annual Trivia Contest. While sampling many culinary treats, our membership had the chance to win one of the superb contest prizes.  Special thanks to Doreen Georgopoulos, who always does a wonderful job of organizing the trivia contest.

In conclusion, the 2016 Annual Spring Meeting succeeded in delivering a memorable program with very relevant and enlightening topics. It also afforded all of us the opportunity to chat with a multitude of exhibitors and enjoy the company of friends and colleagues.  Thanks to everyone who made this meeting such a success. We look forward to seeing all of you at our Fall meeting scheduled for Friday, October 7, 2016, again at the Hotel Pennsylvania, in Manhattan. Our Programming Committee has put together another terrific symposium for you, so mark your calendars!