Where Lab Tests Are Performed

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At a Public Health Laboratory

Public health laboratories are run by state and local health departments to diagnose disease and protect the public from health threats, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases and environmental hazards. These labs perform tests to monitor, for example, the prevalence of certain diseases in the community, such as STDs; to investigate outbreaks of foodborne illness or water pollution; and to screen newborns for various genetic and metabolic conditions at birth. They also perform rare or unusual testing that clinical labs do not offer (e.g., specialized molecular tests to characterize a unique strain of E. coli causing infection).

Public health laboratories are the to-go laboratories for first responders, such as in cases of bioterrorism (e.g., the anthrax attacks in 2001). In cooperation with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other federal agencies, public health labs are part of the Laboratory Response Network (LRN). Many local clinical, federal, military, and international labs are part of the LRN in a partnership aimed at responding to biological and chemical terrorism and other public health emergencies in this country. 

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