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University of Iowa News Release

 

Sept. 6, 2007

Microbiologist will train technicians in India to test for bird flu

Trisha Kreman (photo, left), a public health microbiologist at the University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL), is one of five scientists selected to train laboratory technicians in India to test for H5N1 avian influenza, often referred to as bird flu.

The team, which departs for India Oct. 2, consists of three clinicians from state public health laboratories and two from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The three-week program is coordinated by the CDC and places skilled laboratorians in areas with known cases of H5N1 to help contain the spread of the potentially deadly illness through diagnostic testing.

"By sharing her expertise on-site in India, Kreman will prepare local technicians to detect the deadly disease that has claimed the lives of nearly 200 people worldwide, killed millions of poultry and migratory birds, and threatens to spread exponentially if it is not contained," said UHL Director Chris Atchison. "Her experience also benefits Iowa as she sees firsthand how public health workers can prevent the spread of this disease."

Kreman will teach the course in Pune, India, then travel to sites across the country to help technicians set up their laboratories, conduct real-time analysis, incorporate quality control measures and establish procedures for specimen collection, handling and processing.

Sixteen technicians from throughout India are registered to attend the course.

"There is so much that I hope to gain from participating," Ms. Kreman said. "There is the teaching and training experience, increased knowledge of influenza and how the CDC helps with global surveillance, and outbreak management of emerging infectious diseases. There is the global travel experience and making new international friends. It is a sense of really helping fulfill a true need."

Avian influenza occurs naturally in wild birds. Most strains of the virus are harmless to these migratory fowl. H5N1, however, has caused deaths in more than 80 species of wild birds. It was passed to domestic poultry, where millions were killed by the disease or slaughtered to prevent its spread. Within the last few years, H5N1 spread across Asia, Europe and into Africa, and it passed from effected poultry to humans and other mammals.

"I commend Trisha for taking on this important, global work," said Mike Pentella, Ph.D., UHL associate director of infectious disease. "Trisha is using her considerable laboratory skills and her vacation time to help stop suffering. We applaud her willingness and enthusiasm for the humanitarian project."

The U.S. trainers who will be teaching technicians through the CDC program must be well-versed on a variety of laboratory instruments in order to adapt to the equipment that is available on-site. The expedition is funded by several international, bilateral agreements. Teams often travel under the umbrella of the World Health Organization, which aids in providing access.

The University Hygienic Laboratory is the state of Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory, with facilities located on the UI'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 University of Iowa 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.

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 nonroutine analyses. Additional information about UHL, its programs and services is available online at http://www.uhl.uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University Hygienic Laboratory, 102 Oakdale Campus, H101 OH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-5002

MEDIA CONTACT: Pat Blake, 319-335-4177, patricia-blake@uiowa.edu