Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP Monkeypox virions
Phlebotomists from two major labs have sparked debate after they allegedly refused to take blood from patients who are getting tested for monkeypox.
Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics have conceded that their technicians aren't drawing blood from potential monkeypox carriers, according to CNN.
"This is absolutely inexcusable. It's a grave dereliction of duty," David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors told the outlet. "We can't afford a delay in diagnostic testing because commercial labs aren't doing the right thing."
It's not known whether the refusal is because of the phlebotomists' personal precautions or the labs' regulations. Both labs told CNN that they are evaluating how their guidelines protect technicians.
"Based on medical and CDC guidelines, testing for the monkeypox virus requires a physician or healthcare provider to collect a specimen from suspected monkeypox lesions using a cotton swab. Those samples are not currently collected by Labcorp phlebotomists," a spokesperson for Labcorp tells PEOPLE in a statement.
"Additional testing requiring blood collection may be ordered by a physician which may occur in the doctor's office, clinics, and hospitals by trained phlebotomists. Those blood collections can also now be performed by Labcorp in-office phlebotomists and at our patient service centers, following clarification that collection sites fall under CDC's guidance on proper handling of test specimens from patients who have or are suspected of having monkeypox," the statement continues.
A Quest Diagnostics spokesperson also tells PEOPLE, "Last week, we received approval from the New York Statement of Health to provide clinical testing using our monkeypox lab-developed test, expanding testing options for patients living in the state. We continue to plan to introduce the CDC's orthopoxvirus test during the first half of August, which will supplement testing with our current monkeypox test. While growing, demand for monkeypox testing continues to be modest and below our capacity."
Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokeswoman, noted to CNN, "CDC's monkeypox isolation guidance specifically states that people should remain isolated, except to get medical care. Obtaining a sample for testing is medical care that could lead to diagnosis or treatment if warranted."
Labcorp executive Dr. Brian Caveney said, per the outlet that "up until now, we have typically not been doing" blood tests for potential monkeypox patients but that was "likely to change."
He added, "(Monkeypox) is new – nobody knew what it was – some nurses and doctors are scared of it. Some of our phlebotomists have been scared – appropriately – of it."
Meanwhile, Harvey called the labs' current decisions "a modern-day example of discrimination," to which New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan agreed, likening the refusals to injustices against those who are HIV positive.
"This reminds me of the olden days when people didn't want to care for HIV patients," he said, per the outlet.
"With monkeypox, Labcorp offers the CDC test to physicians and healthcare providers nationwide and has the ability to meet current nationwide demand using its significant transportation and logistics capabilities. Labcorp phlebotomists are trained to collect blood from patients who may have different communicable diseases including but not limited to HIV, hepatitis, COVID-19 and now monkeypox," a spokesperson for Labcorp tells PEOPLE.
"Our priority is always to protect the health and well-being of all involved in the testing process so that everyone is confident that the established systems, processes, and protocols allow the activities to be performed safely," the spokesperson adds.
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The virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact. While that may sound similar to COVID-19, Dr. Linda Yancey, infectious disease specialist at the Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, told PEOPLE on Thursday that "this is not a respiratory virus. It is not like COVID, which spreads primarily through the air."
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"Monkeypox is transmitted by skin to skin contact. And that can be any kind of skin to skin contact. I know a lot of the cases here have been transmitted through sex, but it's not a sexually transmitted disease," she explained. "Basically, sex involves a lot of skin to skin contact but so does dancing, so does kissing, so does shaking hands, or doing things like wrestling or football. So there's a bunch of different ways that can be transmitted. Any skin to skin contact is a big risk."
"That being said, it can be spread by large respiratory droplets," Yancey added. "So if you are face to face with someone for a prolonged period of time, you potentially could spread it that way. But that's not really been the main driver in this particular outbreak, it really has mostly been skin to skin contact."