April 23 through 29 is National Laboratory Professionals Week, a time for us to take a moment to thank our hard-working laboratory staff. This week we will celebrate the vital contributions laboratory professionals make to protect public health and safety . Our Public Health Laboratory is a leader in Arizona and the United States. For example, our lab played an important role testing many samples during the 2016 measles outbreak, which was one of the largest measles outbreaks in Arizona history. They were also one of the first three labs in the nation to test for Zika.

Another example of the cutting edge work done at our lab was a recent E. coli outbreak. Our highly trained staff used molecular laboratory techniques to identify four children who had the same rare strain of E. coli. As they had the same strain of bacteria, they likely got sick from the same source. Once the laboratory link was identified, public health investigators interviewed parents and child care providers to identify all food, drinks, and other risk factors for each child during the week before they got sick. During these interviews, we discovered that several children had eaten products containing soynut butter. Identification of the source allows public health to intervene and prevent others from getting sick.

The lab plays a critical role in protecting babies through the Arizona Newborn Screening Program. The program includes bloodspot screens for 28 rare and serious disorders and provides oversight for hearing and pulse oximetry screening, two point-of-care tests done at the hospital/birthing center. These early screens will tell your baby’s doctor whether more specialized testing is needed. The laboratory has also been working with communities and the other Four Corner States on biomonitoring which can be used to determine amounts and types of chemicals that may be present in your body.

Thanks to the lab staff who receive the samples, ensure the lab information management systems are functioning, provide critical testing results to physicians, and who diligently work to meet the needs and expectations of the customers. Whether it is at our State Public Health Lab or a partner laboratory, please take a moment this week to thank a laboratory professional.