On October 4, 2001, a state public health laboratory in Florida confirmed the first case in what became known as the “anthrax attacks,” and issued an alert to the public health community. Within days, members of the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) were inundated with suspect samples of every imaginable type. Donuts, packages, clothing—even a body—arrived for analysis. Ultimately, the public health laboratory members of the LRN handled 70% of the anthrax testing, conducting over a million tests on 125,000 samples to distinguish between real and apparent threats, thus calming a frightened public. Laboratory scientists worked grueling hours to conduct analyses that would drive decisions by medical practitioners, law enforcement and public health officials. Public health laboratories were also on the front line testing environmental samples from United States Postal Service (USPS) facilities for Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax.
Significant federal and state investment in public health preparedness has strengthened laboratory capability and capacity to respond to all threats, man-made or naturally occurring. The value of this investment has been demonstrated by the effective laboratory response to numerous public health threats.
APHL develops training, policy, diagnostic and practice guidelines on bioterrorism and other public health preparedness issues. It works to strengthen communications and collaboration across national laboratory systems and between public health laboratories and the federal government.