Ask an American to define the term “public health laboratory,” and you are likely to get a puzzled look. Yet these highly specialized governmental health laboratories protect our lives daily.
Working at the federal, state and local level, public health laboratories monitor and detect health threats ranging from rabies and dengue fever to radiological contaminants, genetic disorders in newborns and terrorist agents. Equipped with sophisticated instrumentation and staffed by highly trained scientists, these unique institutions deliver services that may be unavailable or cost-prohibitive elsewhere.
Public health laboratories—which also include environmental and agricultural laboratories—form the backbone of a
national laboratory network on alert 24/7 to respond to novel strains of disease, natural disasters, chemical spills, foodborne outbreaks and other health emergencies. They collaborate closely in these efforts with the
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies including the
US Environmental Protection Agency,
Food and Drug Administration,
Federal Bureau of Investigation and
Department of Homeland Security.
Public health laboratories also partner with the
World Health Organization and other international health entities to prevent and control health threats. For example, state public health laboratories participate in the
WHO Global Influenza Surveillance Network which monitors circulating strains of influenza to inform selection of those to be included in the annual flu vaccine.
Read more about public health laboratories.
Strategically Located and Diverse
Every state, territory and the District of Columbia has a central public health laboratory that performs laboratory services for the jurisdiction. Many states also have local public health laboratories, ranging in size from large metropolitan laboratories to smaller facilities that serve a region or community. Some public health laboratories specialize in one area of practice such as environmental health, food safety or agriculture. These facilities may not be titled as a "public health laboratory" even though they perform complex testing and surveillance.
A Culture of Quality
Public health laboratories ascribe to a
culture of quality. They strive to improve operations at their facilities and at clinical laboratories within their jurisdiction. They sponsor specialized training, send updates concerning health threats and share information on best practices. In many states, public health laboratories regulate private clinical and environmental laboratories. State public health laboratories also conduct applied research, for example, to develop enhanced testing methods.
... and in Action
Posts from the
APHL blog show how public health laboratories respond to diverse health threats.