Public Health Preparedness & Response

Public Health Laboratories: A Critical Component of the Public Health Puzzle

This week is National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week and National Environmental Laboratory Professionals Week.  APHL is honoring the many individuals working public health and environmental laboratories around the world.  Stay tuned for blog posts this week featuring the work of many of those unsung heroes working to protect the public’s health.

By Sikha Singh, MHS, Senior Specialist, Laboratory Response Network, APHL

Photographer: Jim GathanyDate:Description: CDC laboratory workerCategories: Health Occupations; CDC Buildings and Facilities; CDC Laboratorians Jim GathanyDate:Description: CDC laboratory worker

Despite ongoing budget decreases, public health laboratories continue to support prevention and population-based surveillance activities.  Each component of the public health system including first responders, sentinel laboratories, epidemiologists, clinical hospitals and the public health laboratory perpetuate the continuum of sustained population health.  These components of the system are greater than the sum of their parts, with each being an essential contributor to public health victories.  These victories include support offered during a variety of events including:

  • Pandemics like the 2009 Influenza A H1N1 pandemic
  • Deliberate attacks  like the 2001 Anthrax attacks
  • Resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases
  • Unintended consequence of natural disasters like the 2010-2011 cholera outbreak in Haiti following a massive earthquake

However, even in the absence of major events such as those listed above, public health laboratories work behind the scenes to perform daily activities ensuring that population health is maintained.  Business as usual, even during challenging economic times, involves public health laboratories performing a wide array of services including, but not limited to, newborn screening, emergency response, disease surveillance and detection, strain typing, identification of emerging diseases, environmental testing, and so on.

It cannot be stressed enough that public health laboratories keep the public safe and remain an essential element of the public health system.


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