CONTACT: DAVE PEDERSEN
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 335-8034
Release: Oct. 8, 1999
UI Hygienic Laboratory is part of national bioterrorism
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Hygienic
Laboratory will play a key role in a nationwide networking effort to quickly
identify and track potential terrorist attacks with anthrax or other deadly
The National Laboratory Network for Bioterrorism Detection
was launched in mid-September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC). Its mission is to link hospitals, federal agencies and public health
laboratories around the United States and aid in detecting, tracking and controlling
outbreaks caused by biological agents.
The Hygienic Laboratory is one of 40 laboratories
designated to conduct tests on suspected biological agents submitted by hospitals
or other state laboratories, said Mary J.R. Gilchrist, Ph.D., director of
the Hygienic Laboratory. The laboratories participating in the network will
function at different levels of capacity. The Hygienic Laboratory will have
advanced capabilities, she said. Funding for the enhancement of these capabilities,
provided through a cooperative agreement with the CDC, is just over $280,000
for the first year.
"For example, if a patient goes to a hospital with
symptoms of anthrax or disease from some other biothreat agent, the hospital
will run tests and send the organism to us for additional tests to determine
whether such an agent is involved," Gilchrist said. "If we are indeed dealing
with a deadly biological agent, we will forward the specimen to the CDC and
alert the federal authorities."
The CDC and public health officials could then use
the network to disseminate this information quickly and monitor potential
outbreaks in other parts of the United States, she added.
Confirmation of a biological agent like anthrax usually
takes at least 24 hours. By working together, however, public health officials
will know whether a potential outbreak is occurring and may be able to treat
people who were recently exposed and thus prevent additional exposures. More
efficient laboratory methods are being developed that will allow identification
of suspected bacteria and viruses within hours. The Hygienic Laboratory will
evaluate these methods as soon as they are available, Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist was one of the primary architects of the
laboratory network and has experience in preparing for the threat of bioterrorism.
During the Persian Gulf War, she led a Veterans Affairs group of microbiologists
in developing a plan to address biological or chemical weapons issues.
On Oct. 21, the Hygienic Laboratory and the Iowa Department
of Public Health will conduct the first in a series of workshops dealing with
the potential impact of bioterrorism on the medical community and the Iowa
population. Designed for laboratory personnel, physicians, nurses and other
health care professionals, the workshops will address national contingency
plans, the role of emergency responders in Iowa, biological agents targeted
for use by terrorists and referral resources for hospital emergency room and
laboratory staff. The workshops will be transmitted over the Iowa Communications
For more information on the workshops, contact the
UI Hygienic Laboratory at (319) 335-4500.