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UHL Connects With Iowa Labs That Perform Rapid Influenza Testing

Armen Hareyan's picture

The University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL) is assisting clinical laboratories throughout Iowa that perform rapid influenza testing to prepare for their role in a pandemic influenza outbreak with a two-part influenza surveillance and biosafety program. UHL received a grant from the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) to fund the training.

Laboratories in 24 hospitals and clinics across the state are expected to participate in the initial phase, currently under way. UHL scientists will provide the training onsite to assess influenza-testing capacities and biosafety practices and provide updates on national and state pandemic planning. The second phase, to begin later this spring, includes 12 hands-on sessions, two in each of the state's six bioterrorism planning regions. Topics will include laboratory testing, preparing biosafety materials and packaging and shipping of specimens. Representatives from as many as 120 laboratories are expected to participate in this program.

"The laboratories taking part in this important training are considered sentinel labs because they are among the first to receive specimens for testing, which means that they also are on the front lines of any epidemics," said UHL Interim Director Chris Atchison. "It is critical that we supply these scientists with the latest training on how to prepare for an outbreak and handle specimens on a routine basis as well as during an outbreak."

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Development of a database for clinical laboratories that perform rapid influenza testing is another component of the program slated to continue through May. Such a database will provide the communications structure to rapidly transmit testing information, saving time and potentially saving lives.

UHL's Trisha Kreman, a microbiologist, and Sandy Jirsa, supervisor of virology, helped develop the program and have been traveling throughout Iowa to deliver it onsite to laboratories.

"Based on previous efforts, UHL has learned that there are at least 120 laboratories in Iowa that perform rapid influenza testing," said Michael Pentella, Ph.D., UHL interim associate director of infectious disease. "Meeting with these labs through onsite discussions and regional tabletop exercises helps everyone to be better prepared to face the emergency that pandemic influenza will present."

The University Hygienic Laboratory is the state of Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory, with facilities located on the University of Iowa's Oakdale Campus in Iowa City and at the Iowa Lab Facilities in Ankeny, a Des Moines suburb. Among its many services, the laboratory functions as a consultative and analytical support facility for state agencies, health professionals and citizens. UHL is part of the UI and has developed and maintained effective and productive collaborations with the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Geological Survey, and local public health agencies.

The UHL performs analyses on samples from virtually all matrices, including human clinical specimens, air, drinking water, wastewater, soil, sediment, industrial effluents, oil and fish. In addition to performing analyses by specified methods, the UHL provides methods development and procedure verification for non-routine analyses. Additional information about UHL, its programs and services is available online at http://www.uhl.uiowa.edu.