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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 2, 2008

Grant links UI lab, Minnesota and Nebraska in influenza information, testing

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded $258,000 to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL) for the development of an electronic interface between three states to help meet testing demand in the event of an influenza pandemic.

The UHL is collaborating with the Minnesota Public Health Laboratory and the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory to create the Automated Electronic Influenza Reporting System. Through an electronic interface, each of the three laboratories will be able to order influenza testing and obtain results directly from the others' computer systems.

"The need to rapidly order tests and access results is particularly critical during disease outbreaks," said UHL Director Christopher Atchison. "This grant will help Iowa meet surges in testing and creates a structure for Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska to assist each other during public health emergencies."

This design will allow rapid test ordering and reporting for influenza and influenza-like illnesses. It also will support these laboratories in providing each other with backup testing during a pandemic and potentially during other emergencies.

"This is not only a new system for the Midwest, it is the first of its kind anywhere," said IDPH Director Tom Newton. "This technology ensures Iowa is ready, should we ever face a health emergency."

The Automated Electronic Influenza Reporting System will use the Health Level Seven (HL7) standard to create test-order and result messages that are understood by the information systems of each the laboratories. HL7 is the de facto standard for exchanging health care information for large hospitals, commercial laboratories and CDC.

UHL's information technology (IT) staff will work with the subject-matter experts and IT staff from the Minnesota and Nebraska laboratories to create message guidelines, harmonize orders and results, establish the electronic interface, and implement the new program. After completion, this design will be made available to other state laboratories as a template for creating similar systems.

The University Hygienic Laboratory is part of the University of Iowa and is the state of Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory. The UHL is the designated laboratory for the Iowa Neonatal Metabolic Screening Program, with facilities located on the 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. 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.

Additional information about UHL, its programs and services is available online at

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

MEDIA CONTACT: Pat Blake, 319-335-4177,