Laboratory Infrastructure

Because the release of a biological agent is intended to have devastating effects on the population, laboratory networks have been established to standardize the issues associated with bioanalysis, including sampling, testing, reporting, and sample disposal. These networks provide a hierarchical approach to identification and confirmation of biological agents, allowing water suppliers to become involved in the testing process and obviating the need for trained responders to take action in every incident on the local level. Even though local level analytical laboratories are not likely to have comprehensive biological agent monitoring systems in place, they provide initial, basic analyses. At later stages, better equipped laboratories in the networks, such as select government and academic laboratories, can perform more sophisticated analyses. In this sense, the system is set up so that laboratories are available to provide support and confirmation. Many hospital or clinic laboratories are not trained to deal with highly infectious (select) pathogens. If patients begin to present at emergency departments en masse or with unknown illnesses, involvement with a confirmatory laboratory is necessary. Recently, a number of simple handheld testing kits have been developed for select agent identification that seems well suited to nonspecialized use. However, these tests, typically antibody based, exhibit high rates of false-positive responses and low sensitivity, and they do not address organism viability. For these reasons, resulting in public health professionals have denounced their utility (Counterterrorism and Forensic Science Research Unit Hazardous Materials Response Unit/Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program, 2003).

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